Starring Lea Seydoux, Adele Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Aurelien Recoing, Catherine Salee, Benjamin Siksou, Mona Walravens, Jeremie Laheurte, Alma Jodorowsky, and Sandor Funtek
4 out of 4 stars
IN THEATERS NOW.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (or, La Vie d'Adele: Chapitres 1 et 2, as it is known in France) is one of the most beautiful, realistic love stories I’ve seen in ages. I loved it to death. The movie, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and is loosely based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, has become known as the “3 hour long NC-17 rated French lesbian romance.” The fact that the lovers are lesbians has nothing to do with it. It’s not trying to make a statement on gay rights/marriage. This is just a movie about love, and it gorgeously shows how the love between gay people is just as real as the love between a man and a woman. Usually action/adventure epics are 3 hours long, but Blue Is the Warmest Color is simply a detailed examination of a fictitious woman’s life. We never see movies like these, ones that spend so much time observing every waking minute of an anonymous person’s life. Abdellatif Kechiche’s experiment works, thanks to its outstanding performances and and its truthful outlooks on love, passion, lust, and heartbreak. Get ready for one hell of a romantic epic.
Newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos is PHENOMENAL in the leading role. She plays her own name, Adele, a beautiful but pouty-looking high school student living in France. She has a group of friends but doesn’t seem to have any fun with them. She even feels distant from her parents, shown in a scene where they silently eat dinner and watch TV. One day a cute classmate, Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte, real-life boyfriend of Exarchopoulos), flirts with Adele on the bus home. He’s a nice guy, but Adele isn’t quite satisfied with him. She’s distant when they make love for the first time, fully aware that she’s not enjoying the moment. While her friends pressure her to stay with him Adele confides in her gay buddy, Valentin (Sandor Funtek), that there’s something missing in her life. The days pass until one day where she crosses the street and makes eye contact with a blue-haired girl walking past. She’s instantly drawn to her. Out of all the people on the road, these two souls are making a connection.
You might be thinking this is a schmaltzy “love at first sight” moment where romantic music plays and the two walk past each other in slow motion. It isn’t. AT ALL. Everything is natural. Kechiche only relies on the actors’ expressions and it works. It shows how every one of us has those rare experiences where we stare at a stranger without knowing why. One night Valentin takes Adele to a gay bar in town where (what do you know?!) the blue-haired woman is there! She introduces herself as Emma, a fourth year college student studying Fine Arts and an out and proud lesbian. Adele can’t hide her desire for Emma, which (in a powerful scene) angers her friends who hear rumors she went to a gay bar. Adele and Emma meet up some more, and after the first kiss they fall madly in love with each other. The rest of the movie follows their relationship up till their adulthood, where Adele becomes a teacher and Emma an artist. The 3 hours consist of long but absorbing conversations Adele has with the people in her life, from Thomas to Emma’s caring parents (Anne Loiret and Benoit Pilot) to Samir (Salim Kechiouche), a chatty friend she meets at a house party. Exarchopoulos, a woman we can’t ever take our eyes off, is in EVERY frame.
So yes, there are a lot of LONG “graphic” sex scenes in Blue Is the Warmest Color. So, of course, the MPAA has given it an NC-17 because they have a thing against realistically simulated sex (especially if it’s between gay people) and never have a problem with onscreen violence. Weird, huh? These scenes are long, and Adele and Emma get in every position lesbians can get into while having sex, but I don’t think they’re dirty. They’re soft and beautiful, a truthful depiction of how two people who are in love feel when they’re pleasuring one another. America just isn’t used to seeing passion as real as this. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos are completely fearless in these scenes and even in interviews they’ve stated numerous times that they didn’t have a problem shooting them. They understand that these scenes are meant to be about love and Adele’s awakening sexuality. The harder scene for them, believe it or not, was when Seydoux had to slap her costar across the face.
Some people are mad that a man directed a female coming-of-age story (also because Kechiche was supposedly a nightmare to work with, making his cast work long hours and refusing to increase his crew’s salaries). However he may be as a person, he’s made an unforgettable epic. The fact that he’s a man has nothing to do with it. If I was a girl I might feel differently, but as a man he’s examined Adele’s life with a magnifying glass. We see her world as if the movie’s a documentary. When Adele and Thomas eat gyros, we see the food sliding out of their mouths. When Adele kisses Emma, we see the lust in her eyes. The dozens and dozens of close-up shots are a way for us to feel the naturalness of the story. Reading French dialogue for 3 hours may be too tiresome for people, and I’ll admit that after 2 hours my eyes became a little sleepy. Yet hours after Blue Is the Warmest Color ended I still couldn’t shake it off me. It’s an extraordinary experiment in filmmaking, an audacious way to absorb us into a fictitious character that we may have never even cared for to begin with.
There’s no action here. We only see the steps it takes to falling in love, what it means to feel real pleasure, and the downside a relationship can take. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux’s exuberant passion and Kechiche’s truthful way of visualizing what it feels like to be in love make Blue Is the Warmest Color not just one of my favorite movies of the year but one of my favorite romances of all time.