It's no surprise that Cannes Palme d'Or winner "Blue is the Warmest Color" has earned an NC-17 rating for “explicit sexual content.” Sundance Selects/IFC Films figured that would be the case when they submitted it. They're stirring up some ratings controversy to lure people to see the lesbian romance starring two lovingly photographed nubile French actresses. They could go unrated stateside if they wanted to. They want audiences to know that the film is not trimmed or softened in any way.
“We have intimate knowledge of how the MPAA works," said Jonathan Sehring, President of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, "and it is unquestionable that changes must be made. That the board finds violence acceptable for young viewers while condemning sex is egregious.”
While IFC's Sundance Selects will book the Abdellatif Kechiche film after the New York Film Festival in NY and LA for a qualifying Oscar run on October 25, the movie will also go out on VOD later on and the NC-17 rating will only enhance its visibility. They haven't dated the film yet for VOD, says Sehring, "but we feel that the movie will work extremely well on any and all platforms – it is pretty incredible work and the performances are breathtaking."
The film's three-hour running time is a barrier for wide theatrical play. Landmark, AMC and Regal will both play specialized films in NC-17. But Cinemark will not book a film rated NC-17. Mainly the NC-17 gets in the way of newspaper ads in such papers as the Seattle Times. Which is not so big a deal anymore in the online media age.
With a screenplay by Kechiche and Ghalya Lacroix, and starring Lea Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, the film was produced by Alcatraz Films, Quat’Sous Films and Wild Bunch. Sundance Selects is a sister label to IFC Films and IFC Midnight, and is owned and operated by AMC Networks Inc. Sehring stated:
“This is a landmark film with two of the best female performances we have ever see on screen. The film is first and foremost a film about love, coming of age and passion. We refuse to compromise Kechiche’s vision by trimming the film for an R rating, and we have every confidence that BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR will play in theaters around the country regardless. An NC-17 rating no longer holds the stigma it once did, and we look forward to bringing this unforgettable film to audiences nationwide. We believe this film will leave a lasting imprint as the LAST TANGO IN PARIS for a whole new generation.”
At Cannes Jury president Steven Spielberg called the film “a great love story that made all of us feel privileged to be a fly on the wall, to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning. We didn't think about how it was going to play, we just were really happy that someone had the courage to tell this story the way he did...The issue of gay marriage is one that many brave states in America are resolving in a way that suits all of us that are in favor of gay marriage. But I think actually this film carries a very strong message, a very positive message.”
Recently Fox Searchlight embraced the NC-17 with 2011 sex addiction drama "Shame." It was one way to make it a must-see, in a way, for certain audiences. Searchlight has been trying to change awareness of the NC-17, which they adopted for both 2003's "The Dreamers," from Bernardo Bertolucci ($2.5 million stateside). "Shame" grossed $4 million. They tried to remove the brand of "shame" around the NC-17 by reminding folks that many films have found success despite the Scarlet Letter, from 1990's Peter Greenaway Miramax film starring Helen Mirren, "The Cook, Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" ($7.7 million), to Universal's "Henry and June" ($11 million).
Back in the day, the MPAA started out with the X as its official rating for adult-oriented films, such as John Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy," which won the Oscar in 1969. But the X was swiftly adopted as a promo tool by the porn industry, which splashed XXX over the likes of "Inside Jennifer Wales" on 42nd Street and later, porn videos.
Thus in 1990, the MPAA introduced the NC-17 ("No Children Under 17 Admitted") and later, an amended rating (“No One 17 and Under Admitted). Some films with the rating have managed to find audiences, but many relied on NC-17 to deliver adults in search of sensational material, and were often slammed by critics, shunned by newspapers, and relegated to a limited number of theaters.