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'Blue Is The Warmest Color' Actresses Bare It All (And Not Just In That Graphic Sex Scene)

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Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) (L) and Emma (Léa Seydoux) in Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue Is The Warmest Color" (Courtesy of Sundance Selects)
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By Carman Tse

Ever since it won the prestigious Palme d’or at Cannes, the controversy that has been following around Blue is the Warmest Color has made the whole affair much larger than the actual scope of the film itself. I suppose it comes with the territory of earning an NC-17 rating for its graphic depiction of lesbian sex.

If one is so inclined to learn of the supposed ordeal that was the making of the film and the aftermath, then all you need to do is to read about director Abdellatif Kechiche’s insanely paranoid open letter. A few aspects of the film lend itself to suggesting grander ambitions, with its lengthy run time of almost three hours and an excessively wide aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

The original (and less silly) French title of the film tells a much more focused and grounded story: La vie d'Adèle: Chapitres 1 & 2. Underneath it all, Blue is the Warmest Color is the coming of age of 15-year-old Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos). A story very much in its genesis as the French title implies, Adèle’s life story is only in its genesis when we are introduced to her. From the onset, the only aspect of her life we can pin on her is a dedication to her studies that lead her towards a goal of eventually becoming a teacher. A brief romance with a male classmate (Jérémie Laheurte) and eventual deflowering leaves her wholly unsatisfied and all the more insecure among her peers.

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Catching Emma’s (Léa Seydoux) brilliant dyed-blue hair in passing, it is literal love at first sight for young Adèle. Older and experienced, Emma and the romance that sparks between them transform Adèle. Their romance is consummated in the infamous pièce de résistance of the film, the 10-minute sex scene between the two lovers that showcases the intimate passion between the two. It is certainly an uneasy watch, if only because the audience is led to feel that it is spying on something to be shared only between two lovers.

But as the first love burns the brightest, its inevitable decay makes up the second chapter of Adèle’s life. Emma’s skin and kisses literally radiated sunlight before, the film’s visual palette takes a darker and colder tone. Domesticity and occupational obligations sap the passion out of Adèle and Emma’s lives. For the duration of three hours that go by in a breeze, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are both fantastic as Adèle and Emma swing through the highs and lows of their relationship.

In a sense, Blue is the Warmest Color is the narrative of two coming of age stories. Where a younger Adèle learns of the beauty of the world and of her own sexuality, she must now cope with adult obligations and the loss of this innocence. But while a lesser film might go so far as to stigmatize these sexual impulses as an impediment towards growth, Blue is the Warmest Color acknowledges sexuality as a part of adult life and even dares to suggests its necessity.

Blue is the Warmest Color opens today in Los Angeles and New York. It is rated NC-17.

Carman Tse is a native of Northern California but not one of Those Guys that hates on Los Angeles (despite his affection for the Giants over the Dodgers). When he's not sharing long-winded thoughts on movies, he's probably sharing long-winded thoughts on baseball or reading about weird sea creatures.