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Review: 'Blue is the Warmest Color' skimpy on story, too

Adele Exarchopoulos, left, plays Adele; Lea Seydoux plays Emma.
Adele Exarchopoulos, left, plays Adele; Lea Seydoux plays Emma.
Published Nov. 5, 2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color (NC-17) (179 min.) — Without its celebrated sexual boldness, Abdellatif Kechiche's movie wouldn't deserve a fraction of the attention it's receiving. Judges at the Cannes Film Festival fell for the filmmaker's hustle, bestowing the Palme d'Or upon Blue Is the Warmest Color, for the first time ever including the lead actors as recipients. The gesture seems like a generous tip for perhaps 15 parceled minutes of a somewhat live sex show, as skimpily as the rest of the story plays out over three hours.

Essentially this is a girl-meets-girl, girl-loses-girl-and-mopes-a-lot story that, since it's French and subtitled, passes as classy. It's the story of teenaged Adele, played by Adele Exarchopoulos, whose plush-lipped curiosity about romance is vague enough to have whatever meaning you wish to read into it. Adele doesn't know yet what she wants in a lover but it isn't the boy she's dating. Then she spots Emma (Lea Seydoux), an artist with blue-dyed hair, and it's lust at first sight.

The relationship eventually runs its course, from tentative flirting to meeting each other's parents (although Adele's are clueless about her sexuality) to, as the French say, fin. Lots of conversations about literature, philosophy and how men don't understand women. Adele does a lot of talking while she eats because that is real and honest, words filmmakers fall back upon to rationalize dullness.

Now to the real reason this movie is being noticed: its sexual encounters between Adele and Emma, certainly raising the explicitness bar for any movie that isn't flat-out porn. Kechiche's doting on entwined limbs, thrusting pelvises and oral stimulation, all carefully posed and continued longer than necessary to get his point across, races beyond titillation to creepy voyeurism. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux have since made statements seconding my gut feeling that Kechiche did it all, not for his art, but to get his jollies. C (Tampa Theatre)

Steve Persall, Times movie critic


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