Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Romance
Run Time: 2 hours, 59 minutes, Rated NC-17
Starring: Adele Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux
Adapted from the comic book "Le Bleu est une couleur chaude" by Julie Maroh
Co-Written & Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche (Black Venus, The Secret of the Grain, Games of Love and Chance, Poetical Refugee)
It will be mighty challenging for American audiences to latch on to Blue Is the Warmest Color (opening today). First of all, it has been given the NC-17 rating, a well-deserved classification. Add to it, it's a slow-moving romance that is three-hours long. Lastly - and not that I like this, but it's the truth - being a French import, the sub-titles will also keep people away.
You want a strike four? The film is a lesbian love story. A beautiful one, but taboo nonetheless when told with such rawness.
When we first meet young Adele (the magnificent, wondrous Adele Exarchopoulos...more on her in a bit), she is a struggling high school-er, surrounded by boy-crazy girls and girl-crazy boys. She dates, more out of cultural necessity than romantic desire, but never really finds any happiness. On a night out with her gay male friend, she wanders into a lesbian night club as a curious under-aged girl. She would leave that club a changed woman.
At the bar, she meets the blue-haired Emma (Lea Seydoux) and they become fast friends. As Adele hangs out with Emma more and more, her straight friends start to question her and eventually, violently turn on her.
But Adele doesn't respond to peer pressure. As many of us do, Adele finds herself in another person. This person happens to be Emma. One night, things become sensual. From there, the film walks us through the portrayal of a fairly conventional romantic relationship between Adele and Emma. Things begin with a bang (no pun intended) and soon cool off as the realities of life, family and one's own expectations for themselves begin to muddy up the big picture.
Blue Is the Warmest Color will shock you in the most uncomfortable of ways. For me, it had nothing to do with the fact that they were lesbians and that we are treated (the right word?) to several long scenes of graphic, intense sex acts. But the film crosses the line of showing necessary intimacy between two young lovers and gratuitous sexual exploitation. On one hand you appreciate the bravado of the filmmakers and actors on showing a gay love story with such a frankness that many would be afraid to even attempt. But on the other hand, you have to begin questioning the quantity of intimate encounters we are presented with.
It's not a matter of squirmishness on the part of the viewer, of not being able to handle such mature scenes. Director Abdellatif Kechiche shows no restraint in many other aspects of the film as well. Here is a film that could have resonated much louder had it not lingered too patiently on every single scene.
There are large themes at play, none more obvious than the use of color. Everything, everyone, in the film is blue, wearing blue, etc. Everyone is also eating, stuffing their faces, over-indulging in life. A metaphor? Perhaps.
Remove the graphic love scenes and cut an hour or so from the film and you'd have any other romantic drama that you've ever seen...a story that tackles infidelity, growing up and old, meeting the parents and finding one's self.
But the true treasure - and the sole reason that I hope people discover Blue Is the Warmest Color - is for the performance by the stellar Adele Exarchopoulos. Hers is a name you will most definitely hear during the upcoming awards season, unquestionably. Like in Elle Fanning's amazing performance in this year's Ginger & Rosa, the camera smartly lingers on her face for most of it. Every theme, every emotion, every feeling, flows through Adele. She is definitely the draw, nearly drowning out another great performance, that of Lea Seydoux's free-spirited Emma. Both deserve the highest of praise.
There's no question that everyone who sees this film will be talking about the sex scenes. But there is much more than that worthy of your time. Unfortunately though, there is also a lot of time wasted. Love is color-blind and we've all learned that in love there are sometimes shades of grey. And although blue may be the warmest color, it becomes unbearably hot when given to us in such an extended dose.
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