One of the most exhilarating pictures of the year is a three-hour French movie, based on a graphic novel, about a lesbian love affair. “Blue is the Warmest Color,” winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, arrives stateside this week, and while it’s not quite perfect, it’s still unlike any other release this year.
Directed by the Tunisian-French auteur Abdellatif Kechiche, and based on a graphic novel called Blue Angel (“Le Bleu est une couleur chaude”), ‘Blue”‘s Cannes award was, in a rare move, presented to both the director and the two lead actresses. And that’s deserved, because these are some brave, amazing performances.
The film stars Adèle Exarchopolous as a teenage girl in France coming to terms with her emerging sexuality. Early on she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), an older, blue-haired art student, and the two are quickly in love.
The first half of the film depicts their meeting and initial love affair, with the second, years later, concentrating on a more turbulent period. The structure, while more linear, reminded me a lot of “Blue Valentine,” another film showing us both the glorious beginning and sad end of a love affair, not to mention “Annie Hall” and its many imitators.
Of course, what has- somewhat unfairly- gotten the film most of its attention, and earned that NC-17 rating, is a series of extremely graphic sex scenes, including one that lasts nearly ten minutes. While undeniably sexy, the scenes don’t really look like porn- most porn films, after all, don’t run for three hours, with hour-long intercourse-free stretches- nor do they look anything like the similarly lengthy sex scenes in “The Room.”
Exarchopolous is just incredible here- perfect at playing both beautiful and awkward, and never coming across as whiny even though she’s crying in roughly half of the film’s scenes. She’s given so many notes to play and nails them all perfectly. Seydoux, who was also in “Midnight in Paris” and “Inglorious Basterds,” as nearly as strong, although her resemblance to Jon Bon Jovi is such that it became a distraction after awhile. I mean, she literally wears multiple haircuts over the course of the film that JBJ has sported over the years.
So what’s less than perfect about the film? I don’t know that it had to be three hours, and the pace drags a great deal, especially in the first half. It has satirical observations about the art gallery world that are underexplored, and I could say the same thing about its treatment of class conflict. And of course, “Blue is the Warmest Color” sees it fit to follow that weird “Chasing Amy”/”The Kids Are All Right” Rule that All Movie Lesbians Must Have an Affair With a Man.
“Blue is the Warmest Color” is the kind of film that invites much lobby discussion, and much reading of reviews, essays, and news stories about its various controversies (there are so many, almost as many as with “Blurred Lines.”) But once again, there’s undeniably something special here.