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'Blue is the Warmest Color' is about more than hot sex

This year's Palme d'Or went to "Blue is the Warmest Color," a film whose graphic sex scenes have eclipsed its awards and its excellence.

Adele Exarchopoulos (opposite Lea Seydoux) plays a high schooler in love in "Blue is the Warmest Color." Credit: Sundance Selects Adele Exarchopoulos (opposite Lea Seydoux) plays a high schooler in love in "Blue is the Warmest Color."
Credit: Sundance Selects

‘Blue is the Warmest Color’
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Stars: Adele Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux
Rating: NC-17
4 (out of 5) Globes

A pair of lengthy, graphic sex scenes have dominated press for “Blue is the Warmest Color,” even dwarfing the Palme d’Or and special award for its two lead actress it won at Cannes. Believe it or not, these bedroom bouts are necessary. The relationship between a high schooler, Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), and a blue-haired, twentysomething painter, Emma (Lea Seydoux), is one that starts off defined by sex — and, for the former, the thrill of the very, very new.

The first half is all about capturing the frisson of first time experiences. Suddenly uninterested in boys, Adele finds herself bi-curious. When she meets Emma — first via a heated look on the street, then in a lesbian bar — Adele is hesitant. But soon the two are making the beast with two backs for six minutes (not 10, as reported/wished for).

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Because it’s made by a man directing women touching each other in bathing suit areas, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”’s blue moments can’t help but feel male gaze-y. But director Abdellatif Kechiche shoots the scenes the way he does the rest: with a mix of fascination and detachment. Kechiche comes from the school of handheld realism, where shaky cameras gravitate towards turmoil and injustice. But Kechiche, as in his terrific “The Secret of the Grain,” is as fascinated by the mundane as the unbalanced. This may be the first awards-gobbling, brutally honest look at lovers that only features one knock-down, drag-out fight.

In fact, what’s special about “Blue is the Warmest Color” isn’t the sex. Once Adele moves in with Emma, all the craziness disappears: the homophobia of peers, the need to hide the truth from parents, and even, alas, the sex. All that’s left are two people collapsing into domesticity, confronted with the possibility that they’re not built to last.

In its first half, Kechiche’s restless, roaming camera follows the new. In the second half it follows the inert — yet it never stops moving. Adele, a good deal younger than Emma, finds herself with a partner frequently too wiped out for sex, or just up for it. Her copious energy, always equaled by Kechiche’s filmmaking, must be spent elsewhere.

For a jam-packed three hour film, it’s amazing how many major, obvious moments don’t make the cut. Kechiche has spoken of a longer home video version that dwells more on fights, plus Adele’s oblivious parents reacting messily to their daughter’s orientation. But this current version is that rare portrait of a couple that acknowledges that couples do drift apart — that a relationship that is once all-consuming can just lead to personal nonsense, diverging interests and that gutting moment when one accepts that the other has totally moved on.

 
 
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