The 2013 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Color” made cinematic history as the first movie to have three artists jointly receive the top prize: the director and two lead actresses. The film, which opens on Friday, is a love story between two women, Adèle (the heartbreakingly tender Adèle Exarchopoulos), a high school student who aspires to become a teacher, and Emma (the elegantly fragile Léa Seydoux), an older, blue-haired art student and bon vivant. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, the film is based on Julie Maroh’s eponymous 2010 French graphic novel, which was published in English as “Blue Angel.”
Despite the film’s running time of three hours, the lead actresses’ performances and the enchanting cinematography sustain the audience’s attention until the end. The film’s subtitle, “Adèle: Chapters 1&2,” makes the story feel like a novel, incomplete after the first two chapters, leaving the viewer wanting to find out what happens next to this touching young woman.
Kechiche’s film is a character study of desire and intimacy. Desire is represented by the motif of Adele’s mouth, the film’s most erotic organ. Kechiche uses close-ups of her mouth as she sleeps, slurps oysters, breathes, cries, screams, and kisses. As for the sex scenes, which stirred controversy to the point of the film’s banning in Idaho, they are leisurely paced and explicit, but their intensity comes from the delicate intimacy portrayed by the actresses. Much has been made of the extended sex scene—a whole seven minutes in length—but as bold as it may be, the power lies in the beautiful ballet of the actresses’ synchronicity.
On a narrative level, the film is a sincere coming-of-age story, complete with teenage angst, high school cliques, masturbation, sexual experimentation, and social protest.
The film addresses what happens after the initial, carnal stage of a relationship between two people from different social classes is over. Adèle, from a pragmatic, working-class family, matures from a 15-year-old girl into an earthy, sensual young woman; whereas, the elder, more elfin Emma belongs to the intellectual, artistic elite who talk of Schiele and philosophy. This divide ultimately causes tension in the relationship.
The director’s cinéma vérité style, which uses sex scenes that have been described as borderline pornographic, are sure to cause both feminist and conservative backlash. But to view Kechiche’s film as an manifestation of the male gaze or as a homosexual drama would be to miss the bigger picture. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is simply a love story between two people, with all the blues and beauty that it involves.
“Blue is the Warmest Color” will be released Friday. It is playing at the IFC Center, where tickets are $13.50.