'Blue Is the Warmest Color': Despite graphic sex, the screen never heats up

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.December 12, 2013 

Léa Seydoux plays Emma and Adèle Exarchopoulos is Adèle in Blue Is the Warmest Color.

SUNDANCE SELECTS

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    'Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle)'

    ★★☆☆☆

    NC-17 for explicit sexual content. In French with subtitles. Sundance Selects. 2:59. Kentucky.

Who would have thought a movie with as much sex as Blue Is the Warmest Color could be so boring?

Winner of the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Blue details — in detailed detail — the budding relationship between a teenager named Adèle and blue-haired Emma, who is a few years older. Although neither necessarily identifies as a lesbian, the two bond over literature and over a comment a guy makes in a disco they visit: "Love has no gender."

Fair enough. But the trajectory of Adèle and Emma's relationship is not especially fresh — initial attraction, growing detachment, realization that love might not be enough to conquer class and culture — and it plays out at excruciating length.

Director/co-writer Abdellatif Keciche is admirably committed to having his camera hover on the women's faces to make sure he doesn't miss a single nuance, and Léa Seydoux, who plays Emma, is especially captivating. But too much of the time, nothing of interest happens.

The other problem with Blue Is the Warmest Color, the one you've heard about if you've heard anything about the film, is the sex scenes that earned it an NC-17 rating.

There's something to be said for the movie's insistence that Adèle (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma's vigorous sex is just another part of their relationship, but the scenes are so determined to capture the specifics of what women do together that their specificity and length (one sex scene lasts seven minutes) work against them. I am far from an expert on lesbian sex, but knowing that we're supposed to be drawn into the reality of the women's movements made me even more conscious that quite a lot of the sex in Blue looks really fake.

Maybe that's supposed to be an indictment of the relationship, in which at least one of the women is just going through the motions. Or maybe it's a meta-commentary on how impossible it is to understand a relationship you're not in. Or maybe Keciche, a man, is admitting that he doesn't fully understand his lead characters.

Who knows? But at three hours long, you'll have plenty of time to ponder all of those questions and more.


MOVIE REVIEW

'Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle)'

★★☆☆☆

NC-17 for explicit sexual content. In French with subtitles. Sundance Selects. 2:59. Kentucky.

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