Cannes Film Review: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’

Blue Is The Warmest Color Review

A searingly intimate character study marked by the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory.

“I have infinite tenderness for you,” one woman tells another in “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” and it’s a sentiment that also describes director Abdellatif Kechiche’s attitude toward his characters in this searingly intimate, daringly attenuated portrait of a French teenager and her passionate relationship with another femme. Post-screening chatter will inevitably swirl around not only the galvanizing performances of Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, but also the fact that they spend much of this three-hour emotional epic enacting the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory. The result is certain to stir excitement and controversy on the fest circuit while limiting the film’s arthouse potential, barring significant trims for length and content.

Still, it’s a measure of the honesty and generosity of Kechiche’s storytelling that the picture’s explicit sexuality and extreme running time feel consistent with his raw, sensual embrace of all aspects of life, an approach also apparent in the writer-director’s masterful 2007 drama “The Secret of the Grain.” Indeed, it would be reductive to slap an exclusive gay-interest label on “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” a bildungsroman and first-love story whose deep and abiding fascination with life’s great shared pleasures — food, sex, art, literature, music, conversation — encourages the viewer to consider the commonality as well as the vast complexity of human experience.

Having previously examined the lives of artistically inclined youth in 2004’s “Games of Love and Chance,” Kechiche and co-writer Ghalya Lacroix (who also served as one of four editors) have narrowed their focus yet deepened their emotional palette with this very loose adaptation of Julie Maroh’s 2010 graphic novel, “Le Bleu est une couleur chaude.” Fittingly for a story about a girl’s sentimental education, the film’s French title, “La Vie d’Adele: Chapitres 1 et 2,” is a nod to Pierre de Marivaux’s unfinished 18th-century novel “La Vie de Marianne” — an assigned text at the Lille high school where we first meet Adele (Exarchopoulos), a sensitive, unassuming 15-year-old with a passion for literature.

As the film soon makes clear, following a brief romance with cute classmate Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte), Adele also harbors feelings for women — specifically, for a university fine-arts student named Emma (Seydoux), a pale beauty whose short blonde hair is streaked an alluring, rebellious blue. After an encounter at a lesbian bar followed by a series of meetings, during which the older, worldlier Emma gently puts the nervous, inexperienced Adele at ease, the two eventually become lovers.

All this unfolds in Kechiche’s signature style of long, flowing conversations marked by overlapping dialogue, performed in a vein of seemingly artless naturalism, but sculpted with unerring precision and a strong sense of drive. Captured in dynamic widescreen closeups by d.p. Sofian El Fani, these sequences crackle with humor and tension that can build, without warning, to moments of piercing emotion, as when Adele is cruelly humiliated by her friends upon discovery of her same-sex inclinations. More encouragingly, Adele is invited over to dine with Emma’s warm, freely accepting mother and stepfather, who are perhaps too tidily contrasted with Adele’s stiffer, more conservative parents, who are blithely unaware of the nature of the girls’ relationship.

The audience, by contrast, is spared nothing. Given the film’s interest in the rhythms and nuances of human communication, the explicitness and duration of the sex scenes here should come as little surprise. Still, it’s scorching, NC-17-level stuff, if it gets rated at all; the individual scenes are sustained for minutes at a time and lensed from a multitude of angles, with enough wide shots to erase any suspicion of body doubles. Trying out almost every position imaginable and blurring the line between simulated and unsimulated acts, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are utterly fearless, conveying an almost feral hunger as their characters make love with increasing abandon. Audience titillation, though certainly there for the taking, couldn’t be more beside the point; each coupling signifies a deeper level of intimacy, laying an emotional foundation that pays off to shattering effect in the film’s third hour.

While these experiences supply moments of powerful realization for Adele, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is not, strictly speaking, a coming-out narrative; both women pointedly refuse to label themselves, and their experiences over the course of the film convey a clear understanding of the complexity of human sexuality. As the narrative jumps ahead almost imperceptibly a few years — observing as Adele becomes a schoolteacher and settles into a comfortable live-in relationship with Emma, now a burgeoning artist — the thematic emphasis shifts from Adele’s social anxiety and fear of being found out to the trickier matter of finding contentment within commitment.

It’s a simple, even predictable story, yet textured so exquisitely and acted so forcefully as to feel almost revelatory. Always persuasive as a dreamy object of desire, Seydoux nonetheless surprises with the depth of her control; she has moments of stunning ferocity here, revealing Emma as a generous, open person whose hard, judgmental streak is inextricable from her artistic temperament. But the picture belongs to Exarchopoulos, completely inhabiting a role aptly named after the thesp herself; with her husky voice and sweet, reluctant smile, she plays virtually every emotion a director can demand of an actress, commanding the viewer’s attention and sympathy at every minute. Taxing as the 175-minute running time will be for some audiences, those on the picture’s wavelength will find it continually absorbing.

Set in a vibrantly decorated, unmistakably French hipster milieu populated by aspiring painters, writers and actors, the picture feels at once contemporary and happily reminiscent of a time before technology and social media invaded the artistic sphere; computers and cell phones are almost nowhere in sight. As in “The Secret of the Grain,” the camera betrays an almost compulsive fixation with the act of eating, taking on particularly suggestive undertones when Emma teaches Adele how to consume an oyster.

Cannes Film Review: 'Blue Is the Warmest Color'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 20, 2013. Running time: 175 MIN. Original title: "La Vie d'Adele: Chapitre 1 et 2"

Production

(France-Belgium-Spain) A Wild Bunch Distribution release of a Wild Bunch at Quat'sous Films presentation of a France 2 Cinema, Scope Pictures, Genevieve Lemal, Vertigo Films, Andres Martin, RTBF co-production, with the collaboration of Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France 2, with the support of Eurimages, Pictanovo Region Nord Pas de Calais, in partnership with Le CNC. Produced by Olivier Thery-Lapiney, Laurence Clerc. Executive producers, Abdellatif Kechiche, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua.

Crew

Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Screenplay, Kechiche, Ghalya Lacroix, freely inspired by "Le Bleu est une couleur chaude" by Julie Maroh. Camera (color, widescreen), Sofian El Fani; editors, Albertine Lastera, Camille Toubkis, Jean-Marie Lengell, Lacroix; sound (5.1), Jean-Paul Hurier; supervising sound editor, Patrick Hubard; assistant director, Roxane Guiga; casting, Bahijja El Amrani.

With

Lea Seydoux, Adele Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Mona Walravens, Jeremie Laheurte, Alma Jodorowski, Aurelien Recoing, Catherine Salee, Fanny Maurin, Benjamin Siksou, Sandor Funtek.

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  1. yuonne says:

    I’m curious to find out what blog platform you’re working with? I’m experiencing some minor security issues with my latest site and I’d like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Georges says:

    … actually it is a movie that could had been paid by police : the main theme is lesbian paedophilia so they could be tracking down who sees and enjoys it and note them in the archive!

    Art that serves for a purpose!

  3. Georges says:

    Nice porno movie… you can see it in XXX sites…

  4. fred says:

    the perverted left strikes again – at least they won’t need plan b…sigh

  5. dave says:

    I feel sorry for all those actresses in the past who were unable to convey the emotional, spiritual, and physical maturation of their characters because there were no extended graphic sex scenes the movies.

  6. Fanch says:

    Some people miss the point, this is not a sex movie at all. This story of a love relationship between 2 women is much more. It’s a lifelong, soulful & nuanced portrait of them, also showing how their friends & families face it, and with a striking interpretation. It’s a very good movie, all the people who saw it loved it. Yes, there is some sex in a love relationship, especially when they meet, and the director doesn’t hide anything, but this is only one small % of the 3 hours. There is no underage story, the “mature” woman is 25, the younger is a 19 yo actress playing a 17 yo character at the start of the movie, and sexual majority in all EU countries is below 16. Both of them are incredible, I wouldn’t be surprised they get the actress award, even if Marion Cotillard & Berenice Bejo might suit a large audience better.

    • John Barnet says:

      Using your logic, lets start including_blow_jobs in movies if it’s only a small % of the 3 hours.

      This movie is nothing short of pedophilia and_porn and_homosexuality – and those who hate morals will pretend this is the most artistic movie ever made.

  7. Karen Almond says:

    .Surely you cant judge a book by its cover, the same surely goes for films too .I will be going to this film , and I certainly am not a pervert.

  8. Maria Ashot says:

    I agree with @lhills: It’s pornography and it exploits (at least conceptually) a very young female. In the end this is also about a male director creating a film to titillate powerful men in a position to further his career by filming a pornographic lesbian film which creates an utterly false milieu and sanitises & exaggerates the actual coming-of-age experiences of young people of similar background & context. If you actually respect the sexuality of anyone, you will not expect an actor or actress to go to such extremes of “realism” in the name of “enlightening others about the struggles of gay youth” (or whatever the premise here is supposed to be). There are better ways of conveying intimacy and commitment in a love story than by actually filming two people (willing or not) having sex — mind, those of us that know the industry know how many witnesses and takes are needed to achieve this “cinematic benchmark” of “most explicit sex scene.” This is gratuitous voyeurism & the director who created it is not at all actually any kind of friend to women, to young people, to gay people, to actors, or to cinemagoers. This is not the kind of filmmaking it takes to earn my respect, interest or entertainment funds. I would certainly not spend money on this content; more importantly, I would not waste five minutes of my time even viewing a trailer. There are better films exploring this subject matter — and there is also better subject matter.

  9. FurtherMettle says:

    @ lhills

    If the legal age is not what you consider to be the definition of a child or the representation of ‘adulthood’ then what is the definition? If you are stating that it is a difference in age (4-5 years) that makes a relationship right or morally corrupt then consider this: The review clearly states that Seydoux’s character is a university student. She is at the most 25 (the character in the film), which is considerably still a child or ‘young adult’ in just about every society’s eyes. In fact, most people don’t consider you a ‘real adult’ until one graduates from a university or is 28 or older (more of an unwritten parameter that most adults enact in a professional setting). What is your premise on what is wrong or right. Stated out of curiosity rather than anything else.

  10. lhills says:

    Let me get this straight, this is a movie with graphic sex scenes involving a 15 year old victim of statutory rape? What is wrong with you?! There is nothing “beautiful” about glorifying the sexualization of a child. This is porn. Plain and simple. I don’t care how artistically it is shot. It is porn for pedophiles and it is totally irresponsible to romanticize a sexual relationship between a grown woman and a child.

    • John Barnet says:

      You hit the nail on the head – pedophilia_pornography passed off as a movie. As continues to be proven, the homosexual agenda will include the normalization of pedophilia – they honor self-admitted_pedophile harvey milk proving they honor_pedophilia and now moves like this that flat out glorify_pedophilia.

    • lydiabus says:

      Just so you know, the age of consent in France is 15. It still may be an age difference or theme you don’t personally approve of, but it is not statutory rape.

    • Douglas Bcn says:

      Oh please, grow up.
      In the meantime, go and watch Fast and Furious 6, Ace Ventura or something more interesting for you.

      • John Barnet says:

        Of course those who are into_pedophilia will tell others to “grow up”. Why don’t you want for little kids to grow up before you try to molest them.

      • nope says:

        Hey guess what lhills, this movie is about to get a bunch more attention. Bet that makes you feel all warm inside. Enjoy :)

      • lhills says:

        Yes, I should “grow up” and pretend that watching children have sex is artistic. Whether the actress is of age or not, whether the age of consent is 15 or 18, it doesn’t change the fact that the film is designed to give the audience the experience of watching a 15 year-old character act out sexually. It is sick. You can pretend that I am immature, but you are no different than the people who leer at all of the “barely legal” websites. If that’s OK with you, fine. But don’t pretend that this is somehow different just because it’s at a film festival. If you can sit through a graphic portrayal of a child having sex you are either a first-rate pervert or calloused beyond repair.

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