Combustible Celluloid
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With: LŽa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, JŽrŽmie Laheurte, Catherine SalŽe, AurŽlien Recoing, Mona Walravens, Alma Jodorowsky, Fanny Maurin, Benjamin Siksou, Sandor Funtek
Written by: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix, based on a comic by Julie Maroh
Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 179
Date: 10/25/2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Feeling 'Blue'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Abdellatif Kechiche, who was born in Tunisia and raised in France, made one of the most highly acclaimed movies of the last decade there, The Secret of the Grain (2007). It was a slow-paced, thoughtful movie that took time to watch scenes unfold and especially had a love for the pleasures of food.

Now Kechiche has done that one better with Blue Is the Warmest Color. It's an even longer movie not only about the pleasures of food, but also about the pleasures of sex, smoking, and talking about philosophy. If it wasn't so realistic and so focused on two believable, soulful characters, it could be any American's fantasy of what life in France might be like.

Newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos stars as Adèle, who ages through the film from a high school student to a grown-up second grade teacher. It's a truly remarkable performance. Through her open face, you can practically feel every excitement, fear, or doubt that passes through her heart. In one scene, at dinner, her mother guesses just by looking at her that she had a good day, and she did. She explodes with a huge toothy smile. Indeed, Exarchopoulos has a very Brigitte Bardot quality to her, with her sensual, toothy lips, and her general, casual, all-around sex appeal.

Adèle is trying to decide if she's interested in boys. She tries a date and some sex with one boy at school, but something is missing. On the way to her rendezvous with him, she passes by a mysterious and alluring blue-haired girl in the street. They spot each other and can't stop staring, but they each move on. It's not until a female friend unexpectedly, secretly kisses her on the mouth that she realizes what she wants. She wants a girl, and she specifically wants the blue-haired girl.

The blue-haired girl is called Emma, and she's played by the terrific young actress Léa Seydoux, whom I've seen in eight good films over the past seven years (and only one bad one, Robin Hood). Emma is only a little older than Adèle, but she exudes experience and wisdom. She's been with lots of girls, and she already went through her Sartre phase when she was in high school.

Emma already has a girlfriend, but that kind of thing never stopped an attraction this strong. Before long, we get to the movie's pièce de résistance, the sex scene wherein nobody seems to agree on its duration (but it is pretty long). It's an amazingly passionate, erotic sequence, wherein the energy of the two women and their joyous, orgasmic exploration of each other's bodies are steamier than any mere nudity.

The movie wobbles briefly as the girls meet each other's parents. Emma's mom and stepdad serve oysters and wine, and there are no secrets at the table. Adèle's mom serves the usual spaghetti (they are seen eating it at least three times), and the girls' relationship is a secret. Emma plays along, but I was afraid that Blue Is the Warmest Color would go the way of so many other gay romances; one lover is "out" and the other isn't and it creates tension. (It's the equivalent of the "lie" plot in a standard American romantic comedy.) But thankfully, the movie leaps ahead to some time -- years -- later.

Now Emma is 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, and the rest of the movie watches the struggle to get it back together, an endeavor that may or may not be hopeless.

In addition to his long scenes and deep explorations of character through talking, eating, sex, and other ordinary activities, director Kechiche likes to repeat and mirror certain moments. Adèle marching in a protest parade mirrors a gay pride parade with Emma, which mirrors a dance performance with her class. There are very different moods for each, but it's clear that we're meant to compare these moods with ones from the past, or memories. This mirroring can be something as simple as a music cue or the color blue.

Blue Is the Warmest Color won the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and as I haven't seen many of the other entries at this point, I won't begrudge it that glory. However, I suspect that the movie's running time -- longer movies seem more important -- and subject matter (a taboo buster), make it seem more award-worthy than it really is. 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.

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