By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood May 24, 2013 at 1:46PM
UPDATE: "Blue Is the Warmest Color" has won the Palme d'Or.
EARLIER: The latter half of Cannes has brought a fest favorite to the fore. With a bold three-hour running time, French director Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue Is the Warmest Color," starring Lea Seydoux and relative newcomer Adele Exarchopoulous, is receiving raves for its daring, intimate portrayal of a teen lesbian romance. And one more thing: the film contains "the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory."
A notable holdout is the New York Times' mighty Manohla Dargis, who takes director Kechiche to task for the racy film "being far more about Mr. Kechiche's desires than anything else."
Review roundup below.
“I have infinite tenderness for you,” one woman tells another in “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” and it’s a sentiment that also describes director Abdellatif Kechiche’s attitude toward his characters in this searingly intimate, daringly attenuated portrait of a French teenager and her passionate relationship with another femme. Post-screening chatter will inevitably swirl around not only the galvanizing performances of Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, but also the fact that they spend much of this three-hour emotional epic enacting the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adele, Chapitres 1 et 2) might be the title of Tunisian-born French director Abdellatif Kechiche’s latest sprawling drama, but the emotions -- and the sex, of which there is beaucoup -- definitely run red hot in this deeply moving portrait of a young girl’s climb toward adulthood in the arms of another woman. Surely to raise eyebrows with its show-stopping scenes of non-simulated female copulation, the film is actually much more than that: It’s a passionate, poignantly handled love story which, despite an unhinged 3-hour running time, is held together by phenomenal turns from Lea Seydoux and newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos, in what is clearly a breakout performance.
The unconventional length for a story of this nature makes some parts more bearable than others. Most supporting characters, including other potential love interests, parents and co-workers, suffer from a lack of the same development allotted to the two leads. But in that same regard Kechiche creates a fleshed out environment too big for one movie to contain. Its structure certainly makes the possibility of a sequel worthy of consideration.
The film is acted with honesty and power by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos; the affair itself is a little idealised, and the film is flawed by one rather histrionic scene, though not, I think, by its expansive three-hour length. Nonetheless, this is still a blazingly emotional and explosively sexy film, which reminds you how timidly unsexy most films are, although as with all explicit movies, there will be one or two airy sophisticates who will affect to be unmoved by it, and claim that the sex is "boring". It isn't.
There is a certain look that creeps across a person’s face when you tell them one of your favourite films at Cannes this year has been the sexually explicit drama about young French lesbians. (If you’re not sure what that look might be, turn towards a mirror now.) But Blue is the Warmest Colour, by the French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche, is the rapturous opposite of dirty old man cinema.
One of the refreshing aspects here is that although the sexual orientation of the central pair is never shied away from (certainly not in the detailed, graphic sex scenes), the film largely eschews the traditional LGBT coming out narrative, and aside from an ugly scene in the school grounds early on, that aspect of Adèle's development is largely backgrounded until later in the film.
In what has been a strong competition (with works from the Coen brothers, Jia Zhangke, and François Ozon among standouts), Blue Is the Warmest Color all but towers above the rest: based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh about a teenage girl who falls in love with a slightly older woman, it's a shattering masterpiece about sexual awakening, heartbreak, and self-discovery.
It’s disappointing that Mr. Kechiche, whose movies include “The Secret of the Grain” and “Black Venus” (another voyeuristic exercise), seems so unaware or maybe just uninterested in the tough questions about the representation of the female body that feminists have engaged for decades. However sympathetic are the characters and Ms. Exarchopoulos, who produces prodigious amounts of tears and phlegm along with some poignant moments, Mr. Kechiche registers as oblivious to real women. He’s as bad as the male character who prattles on about “mystical” female orgasms and art without evident awareness of the barriers female artists faced or why those barriers might help explain the kind of art, including centuries of writhing female nudes, that was produced.
“Men look at women,” the art critic John Berger observed in 1972. “Women watch themselves being looked at.” Plus ça change....