'Blue is the Warmest Color': Sexy and moving
By Ella Taylor TheWrap
In 1983, John Sayles made an uncharacteristically daft film about a married woman discovering herself as a lesbian. The subject was fairly daring for its time, so it's not surprising that the sex in "Lianna" was limited to tastefully blurry thrashing among tangled sheets.
What stands out is the baffling soundtrack, a constant indecipherable murmur in French. Were these exceptionally cultured lesbians? Or maybe women who burst into French when fulfilling their Sapphic potential in New Jersey, or Texas, or wherever it was?
Lesbians speak French in the extraordinary new "Blue is the Warmest Color." That's because they are French. But they don't talk at all during the insistently unrefined carnal couplings that have earned the film notoriety and free publicity before it even opens Stateside. They moan and grunt and yelp -- you know, like people do when they're having sex.
They also slap a lot, while the camera travels just about everywhere except their internal organs.
These graphic encounters, staged in tight close-up at regular intervals in a three-hour running time, enchanted enough jury members to win the Palme d'Or for Franco-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche.
They alienated others, including the two lead actresses. Lea Seydoux told the media that she "felt like a prostitute" while filming the sex scenes. Not to be upstaged, Kechiche now says that the film, which earned an NC-17 rating, should not be released because it's been "too soiled" by the negative vibe around it.
Fortunately the decision is out of his hands. For while it's true that "Blue is the Warmest Color" reflects a male gaze -- yes, it's voyeuristic, and I'm having a hard time coming up with movie sex that isn't -- the film is far from pornographic and also immensely moving. It's about two women with an overwhelming erotic, animal connection, one of whom awakens to her sexuality while also falling deeply in love for the first time.
Whatever she may have suffered on the set, Adele Exarchopoulos gives a magnificently unguarded performance as Adele, a sensitive teenager with a round, rosy face, messy hair and an overbite that makes her look at once newly hatched and knowing.
We see Adele's untapped appetites in the avid way she eats, in the purity of her anger at teachers who tell her what or how to read the novels she greedily devours, in the veiled curiosity in her brown eyes when a hunky senior boy starts hovering.
That encounter doesn't work out, in part because a blue-haired, older and more confident art student named Emma (Seydoux) has caught Adele's eye. They begin a passionate affair; meet the parents; move in together; the trouble starts.
Raised in an educated, nominally enlightened family, Emma is incapable of understanding that Adele has found her vocation in teaching kindergarten, or that she is content to write for herself rather than for publication. For her part, Adele is intimidated by Emma's arty, knowing friends, and confused by her deepening loneliness even when she's surrounded by others.
We can envy Adele her porous openness to experience even as we fear for how much it may wound her for reasons that have nothing to do with the couple's vibrant compatibility in bed, and everything to do with class and culture.
As in Kechiche's long, lovely 2007 film "The Secret of the Grain," "Blue is the Warmest Color" offers up its secrets through the extravagant details of the everyday, among them sex. The lovemaking scenes are no more and no less elaborated or concrete than any other aspect of the character's lives, in the how of their eating, sleeping, talking -- most of all in how they work.
It's in Adele's commitment to the children she teaches, no matter how profound her misery or her folly in love, that she achieves a kind of ruined strength.
"Blue is the Warmest Color" is subtitled "Adele: Chapters 1 and 2," and by our last glimpse of this ordinary, extraordinary young woman walking down a street, we can't help but long to know what she's going to let herself in for next.
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