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Should Teenagers See 'Blue Is the Warmest Color'? A.O. Scott's Has, Twice.

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire October 24, 2013 at 11:26AM

New York Times critic A.O. Scott calms the controversy by revealing his teenage daughter has seen the sexually explicit coming-of-age movie. Twice.
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Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in 'Blue is the Warmest Color'
Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in 'Blue is the Warmest Color'

Defending a movie against charges it's pornographic is a little like answering the age-old poser "When did you stop beating your wife?" Once the discussion is phrased in those terms, it's already half-over. At Deadspin, Tim Grierson, who saw the film at its Cannes world premiere, offers an impassioned apologia for Blue Is the Warmest Color that's weighed down by the nagging doubt that the pre-release debate has irrevocably tainted reactions to the film.

I don't know if anyone ever will be able to see Blue Is the Warmest Color the same way that I did, and I think that's a terrible shame. It's natural that films evolve after a rapturous reception at a film festival: An unheralded small gem suddenly is looked at with more scrutiny outside of a sometimes-too-forgiving festival environment. But Blue's journey from Cannes to its U.S. release this Friday has been tortuous, especially for those of us who adore the film. And most of it has been brought on by the film's makers.

There's an extent to which all press is good press: There's no question that Blue...'s recognition factor is astronomically higher now than it was after Cannes, which in turn has doubtless raised its commercial prospects. But if what matters is not just how many people see the film but how they see it, the question is altogether murkier. At this point, who could watch the film's infamous sex scenes without thinking of Lea Seydoux's accusation that director Abdellatif Kechiche put his actresses through hell? And how are critics to factor in -- or not -- that information?

Although Kechiche continues to stoke the fires of controversy, Manhattan's IFC Center yesterday effectively proclaimed that there's nothing to see here, announcing that they would be disregarding the film's NC-17 rating and admitting anyone of "high-school age."

One of those potential ticket buyers is New York TImes critic A.O. Scott's 14-year-old daughter, whom he's already taken to see the film twice. 

It’s a movie about a high school student, after all, confronting issues -- peer pressure, first love, homework, postgraduate plans -- that will be familiar to adolescents and perhaps more exotic to the middle-aged. In spite of linguistic and cultural differences, the main character, moody, self-absorbed and curious, will remind many American girls of themselves, their friends and the heroines of the young adult novels they devour. The content of the film is really no racier that what is found in those books, but our superstition about images designates it as adults-only viewing.

Though not a YA expert, I'm not sure that Blue's passionate pubis-on-pubis grinding is "really no racier" than say, the Hunger Games trilogy, in which Katniss never goes further than extremely dreamy kiss. But the level of explicit violent in those books only further sharpens the sense of double standard at play: There's been little outcry over teenagers (and younger) devouring a series in which flesh melts from bones like candlewax, but heavens forfend its characters engage in anything like garden-variety teenage sexual exploration. As the father of a 4-year-old girl, my mind recoils from the idea that my baby will ever be old enough for such stuff, but if she's mature enough to see the likes of Blue a decade hence, it would mean I've done my job as a parent.

This article is related to: From the Wire, Abdel Kechiche, Léa Seydoux


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