by George Wolf
Make no mistake, though the sex depicted in Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adele) is explicit enough to earn an NC-17 rating, it is the way the film is emotionally explicit that makes it one of the very best of the year.
The focus is Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), a French teenager nearing the end of high school who loves literature and has designs on a future teaching career. Her blasé interest in a new boyfriend is forgotten when she passes the blue-haired, twenty-something Emma (Lea Seydoux) on a city street. Instantly captivated, Adele is left confused by her new feelings, and by the newfound pleasure that her fantasies of Emma can bring.
In adapting the source comic book by Julie Maroh, director/co-writer Abdellatif Kechiche has created a completely engrossing drama, one that totally immerses you in the romantic arc between Adele and Emma. Kechiche doesn’t follow a by-the-numbers narrative, choosing instead to present sketches of the the two women’s lives – both together and apart.
Kechiche’s camera lingers on nearly every moment, and though this results in a full three hour running time, the film, almost miraculously, never feels self-indulgent. Rather, the pace seems a necessity, as Exarchopoulos and Seydoux slowly allow us to develop a bond with their characters that is deep enough to share in their joys and heartaches.
The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and though this has historically been a prize for directors exclusively, the jury made an exception this year, choosing to also honor the two lead actors. Indeed, their performances go beyond fearless, reaching a point of emotion so raw you begin to feel self-conscious for intruding.
Exarchopoulos, in particular, is mesmerizing. She invites you into Adele’s journey for fulfillment, never once allowing a crack in her authenticity. If there has been a better performance on screen this year, I haven’t seen it.
A film this sexually frank will inevitably attract attention, especially when a male director is presenting girl-on-girl sex scenes with this much intensity and duration (one nearly ten minutes long). It is a fact that is not lost on Kechiche.
Throughout the film, lessons from Adele’s literature studies are deftly woven into the story, with one character remarking how seldom art ponders female sexual pleasure. While this is clearly not the case here, Kechiche gives the sex scenes (including one between Adele and her early boyfriend) a messy, natural quality, devoid of swelling music or rampant romanticism.
Lust is a major part of Adele and Emma’s relationship, and though Kechiche certainly presents it in a powerful way, he doesn’t employ empty titillation in the process.
Look beyond the distractions, and Blue Is the Warmest Color becomes a love story that nearly explodes with a timely urgency, one told with such depth, humor and humanity it simply cannot be ignored.