The top prize winner at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a nearly three-hour, NC-17-rated movie about the pleasures of sex — and the pleasures of food, smoking and discussing philosophy.
At some level, it seems to be an American’s fantasy of what life in France might be like. But it’s also very realistic and focused on two believable, soulful characters.
In a truly remarkable performance that makes viewers feel her character’s fear, doubt and excitement, newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos stars as Adèle, who ages from a high school student to a grown-up second-grade teacher in the course of the film.
Adèle is trying to decide if she’s interested in boys. She has a date and tries sex with one boy at school, but something is missing.
Meanwhile, she passes by a mysterious and alluring blue-haired girl in the street. They spot each other and can’t stop staring.
Emma, the blue-haired girl (the terrific Léa Seydoux of “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and “Farewell, My Queen”), is only a little older than Adèle, but she exudes experience and wisdom. She has been with lots of girls, and went through her “Sartre phase” in high school.
Before long the movie’s piece de resistance arrives: the sex scene, an amazingly passionate and erotic sequence showing the women in a joyous, orgasmic exploration of each other’s bodies.
When the girls meet each other’s parents, the story teeters close to the Hollywood romantic-comedy “lie” plot, since Emma is “out” and Adèle is still in the closet. Thankfully, in the second half, the action takes place many months later. Emma has become a successful artist (the blue hair is gone) and Adèle is a teacher.
They live together and seem mostly happy. But they run into the first roadblock of their relationship.
In addition to offering his luxurious explorations of character, director Kechiche — who co-wrote the screenplay, which is based on a comic by Julie Maroh — repeats and mirrors moments or sounds: Adèle marching in a protest parade mirrors a gay pride parade with Emma, which mirrors a dance performance with Adèle’s students. The different moods clash poetically.
With its lengthy running time and taboo-busting subject matter, the film is of the type that attracts awards. Yet it’s less an important movie than just a really good one — very deeply emotional, well-acted and filled with human nuance. And sexy, too.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Starring Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos
Written by Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Running time 2 hours, 59 minutes