The moral of "Blue is the Warmest Color" is simple: Sex without love is nothing; life without love is even less.
French filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche’s story of sexual awakening and real love stretches through 10 years. Loosely based on Julie Maroh’s superbly illustrated graphic novel and adapted for the screen by Kechiche and Ghalya Lacroix, it traces the life cycle of a relationship. The telling is beautiful and explicit. The truth of its emotionally raw, romantic drama is universal.
|‘BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR’
Opens today at Kahala 8
The story starts with Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), a 15-year-old high school student in the midst of figuring out life. It soon intersects with Emma (Lea Seydoux), a college art student. The younger girl wants to teach kindergartners; the older is an emerging painter. Adele’s family is working class, Emma’s intellectual elite.
They are beautiful in different ways. Adele is completely unaffected; Emma, her hair streaked blue, quite aware of her effect. In matters of self, Adele is unsure, Emma is certain.
Although both of their stories are explored, the film is driven by Adele’s. It is arguably the more difficult and certainly the most painful.
Kechiche, whose work has long interwoven sexuality and literature, sets the agenda in one of Adele’s classes. The professor is dissecting "The Life of Marianne," Pierre Marivaux’s 18th-century novel on what women want. They have come to the part where Marianne realizes there is something missing in what she feels, an empty place. The students struggle to define exactly what that emptiness might be.
Much of the film is spent on Adele and Emma’s connection both sexually and emotionally. The look and the dialogue have that rare quality of being ethereal and at the same time fully grounded. The realities of the relationship cross sexual, intellectual and social lines precisely and provocatively. But the richness of the film comes in the ordinary details — the way a plate of spaghetti is consumed or a stray hair brushed out of a face.
The film not only won the prized Palme d’Or for its director at Cannes this year, but in a relatively unprecedented move, the actresses won as well. They should have; both performances are exceptional.
Still, there are inherent difficulties for this much-praised film. The sex scenes are graphic, extensive and earned "Blue" an NC-17 rating. Still, "Blue" does not play like an exploitation movie about lesbians in love. It’s an intimate look at two people at their most elemental and vulnerable.
There are the expected moments — the taunts of Adele’s classmates when they first spot Emma. More telling is Adele’s internal conflict. She is smitten yet fearful. Unwilling to tell her parents or her friends about Emma, even as they become a couple, move in together, years pass.
That hesitance will lead to some of the film’s friction. But the distance in their ambitions, the intellectual drifting apart, is what begins the fraying. Much attention is paid to the shape of that particular pain — Adele’s face etched by tears, eyes red, desperation palpable.
Seydoux, 28, more familiar to U.S. audiences from her roles in "Inglourious Basterds" and "Midnight in Paris," brings a sort of existential elegance to Emma. Though the character is clearly the tougher one, the actress allows room for softness as well.
Exarchopoulos, only 19 though she’s been acting since 2007, is remarkable. She so completely embodies the essence of an unconscious and earthy beauty that it feels as if we are spying on an actual life. What we are most certainly seeing is an original talent.
The look of the film is stunning as well. As is Sofian El Fani’s cinematography. The bodies, whether in the heat of passion, the stillness of sleep or walking along the street, are shot with an eye to aesthetic perfection.
Critical raves have followed "Blue" as it has made its way around the festival circuit. Controversy, too — the actresses and director have had very public disagreements on the difficulties of making the film. Whatever their divides, what we see on-screen is a near-perfect film, love at its finest and its most fraught.
Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times