It’s been a long time coming since “Blue Is the Warmest Color” exploded onto the scene by winning the Cannes 2013 Palme d’Or, so I’m pleased to finally be on board with it. I wasn’t certain what to believe as the last 9 and a half months rolled by, and the controversial 3-hour, NC-17, coming-of-age drama from director Abdellatif Kechiche garnered reams of international press. So, I’m ecstatic to report that this epic French romance does not disappoint, and that the lead performances from Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos are as extraordinary as they’ve been advertised. I’ve also recently discovered that “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, that apparently contains a much bleaker aspect to it. Not that the film version is happy-go-lucky, but the focus is squarely centered on the volcanic, romantic relationship of the two leads, as it’s played out over the course of 180 thoughtful minutes. Oh, and the much-talked about sex scenes are intense, graphic…and extremely hot. I’m not going to dub it groundbreaking, but the adult frankness of the sexuality is certainly refreshing. And liberating.
Adele(the beautiful and naturalistic Ms. Exarchopoulos)is a high school student slowly coming to the realization that she’s not as attracted to boys quite as much as her gossipy schoolmates are. Then, one day, Adele passes a striking woman with dyed-blue hair(a superb Ms. Seydoux) on the streets of Lille, France and appears to experience love at first sight. When they meet again, we witness the obviously strong mutual attraction between Adele and Emma. The young women rapidly become a couple, and we follow them through a few passionate years as they enjoy the highs, and suffer the pitfalls, of a long-term relationship. During this time, Adele attends college and realizes her dream of becoming a teacher of young children, and Emma continues her work as an artist—even doing multiple detailed sketches of her lover, Adele. They meet each other’s parents, move in together, get comfortable as their passion enters the expected dimming period, and are introduced to temptations and jealousies. Soon, the trajectory of the relationship turns upon an unfortunate, and somewhat predictable, development.
This is a brave and unhurried piece of cinema, and director/co-screenwriter Kechiche gets the tightrope walk of a burgeoning, flourishing and ebbing romance perfectly nuanced. He treats his actresses, and most importantly his audience, like complicated, flawed adults—and the results are riveting. It’s easy to see why Ms. Exarchopoulos’s performance has received such accolades. Her teenage naturalism(she was 19 when the film premiered at Cannes)complements the more mature role given to Ms. Seydoux(who was 27), while the portrayal of Adele is given ample screen time to explore, blossom and discover. I don’t know if Exarchopoulos will become a great actress, but her renown for this is unquestionably earned. Are some people going to call this movie pornographic? Well, I guess so—but let them squawk, and then summarily dismiss them. Many folks get bent out of shape whenever sex is presented so soberly and true-to-life, but that’s their issue, not ours. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” should not be missed by serious film-goers. Be in their company. Grade: A