Blue Is the Warmest Color

Movie Information

The Story: Story of a romance between two young French women. The Lowdown: Yes, the sex and nudity is unflinchingly, uncoyly presented, but bear in mind this is a long, slowly paced, seriously-intended film. It's well-crafted and large chunks of it work. Worthwhile, but not the masterpiece some are claiming.
Genre: Drama
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche (Black Venus)
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée
Rated: NC-17

Make no mistake, the four-star rating given to Blue Is the Warmest Color is both guarded and calculated. I can see that this is a film of some merit and that it’s seriously intended. Technically, it is well made and Léa Seydoux (the girl Owen Wilson ended up with in Midnight in Paris) is very good as the older half of the film’s central lesbian couple. That’s not to say that Adèle Exarchopoulos is bad as the other half, but the pouty, wide-eyed “French-ness” of her performance sometimes grated on me. I’ll also admit that I was ultimately drawn into the slender story despite its predictable path to its inevitable, inconclusive art-film ending. Got all that? However, the catch is I didn’t like Blue Is the Warmest Color. I found it ludicrously overlong (172 minutes) and slow and tedious, especially the decision to shoot at least 90 percent of the movie in suffocating close-shot. The last movie I saw with this many close-ups was The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and it was supposed to be suffocating.

Before going further, let’s address the pachyderm on the premises—the film’s infamous Sapphic sex scenes, which earned it the dreaded NC-17 rating. No, I wasn’t in the least offended by these scenes—even the seven-minute one—and if I was shocked, it was only because of how boring I found them. (Anyone familiar with late-1960s-early-‘70s movies isn’t likely to be shocked by such scenes.) The last NC-17 film I recall was Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution in 2007, which also contained “steamy” sex scenes that looked more uncomfortable than erotic. The sex scenes here—with or without the claimed prosthetic vaginas—look more like a lot of hard work than an outburst of passion. Gynecological? Perhaps. Erotic? Perhaps not. They’re mostly boring, and they go on too long. The few truly erotic scenes in movies—such as Alan Bates and Jennie Linden in Ken Russell’s Women in Love (1969), Bates and Oliver Reed’s nude wrestling match in the same film, Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke in Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)—capture the abandonment and essence of the events, not the mechanics and certainly not for seven minutes. 

As I said, the story is slender and can, if you like, be reduced to “girl sees girl, girl becomes obsessed with girl, girl gets girl, girl loses girl, girl has trouble dealing with this.” The girl in question is a confused high school student, Adèle (Exarchopoulos), who catches a tantalizing glimpse of Emma (Léa Seydoux), an older girl who happens to have blue hair (hence the film’s English language title). Around this time, her leanings toward other girls are starting to surface, and this glimpse turns to obsession. However, it takes the movie about 45 minutes for them to actually meet. Their courtship is nicely detailed, but other things are given pretty short shrift. We get one outburst of low-wattage homophobia (as though, once mentioned, it can be forgotten), and while we get some details of the two characters’ family life, that gets cut short when the film leaps several years ahead. Key questions—like how Adèle’s clueless parents deal with her coming out of the closet—go unaddressed. Given the film’s nearly three-hour length, there certainly was time.

I feel like I’m seeming too much against the film, and while I didn’t like it much myself and do think it’s deeply flawed, I don’t mean to be negative. The attempt itself is worthy. There are lots of movies with lesbian characters, but very few that are genuinely about the topic. (At the same time, there are scads of titles about gay men.) And, I can’t deny the film is largely well-crafted. If you’re not put off by the rating or three hours of sub-titled movie, I’d say, see for yourself. Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content.

Playing at Carolina Cinemas

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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31 thoughts on “Blue Is the Warmest Color

  1. Steven

    I liked it a lot more than you did. I understand the complaint regarding its length. It certainly feels wrong, but I’m not entirely sure it would work as well as I felt it worked had it been trimmed down – aside from that central love scene. Oy, [i]that[/i] central love scene. I wasn’t offended by any of it. It was about as graphic as I was expecting, but lord oh mighty was it [i]long[/i]. Too long. The director is defending how “extreme” the content is, saying it’s about “passion,” when that really isn’t what I found problematic. Why does it need to be that long? I’d like to hear him answer that one. It made me think that if a woman had directed this picture, would it be this long?

    Anyways, that’s really besides the point; it’s 12 minutes out of a 172 minute picture. I thought it was entirely successful in other regards, and Ms. Exarchopoulos was the clear stand-out for me. Her performance was more than enough for me to overlook some of my gripes (lengthy sex scene, pointless discussion on that book in the beginning, etc.)

  2. Ken Hanke

    It almost certainly helps if you liked Exarchopoulos, whom I found off-putting. The director may say “passion,” but as noted, it just looked like a lot of work to me.

  3. Jeremy Dylan

    However, it takes the movie about 45 minutes for them to actually meet.

    So they’re like Pacino and DeNiro in HEAT?

  4. Ken Hanke

    To me it’s not watch-it-twice worthy. As for Fantastic Mr. Fox — what exactly is going to make it worth replacing the Blu-ray I already have for a Criterion edition? If it’s just extras (which I might watch once), I don’t see the point.

  5. Me

    Although you can watch it on Youtube, it would be nice to see something like One Night… a Train restored.

  6. Edwin Arnaudin

    Eh, this one is more Criterion worthy than a film that already has a solid release.

    Well, if that’s your criteria for Criterion, then sure. I meant Mr. Fox is a better film and I’d both rather watch it multiple times and, possible prosthetics aside, learn about its making than Blue.

    If Criterion should be releasing any Wes, it should be Life Aquatic.

    They did back in ’05…unless that was meant as a rhetorical statement.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I suspect he means as a blu-ray.

    Personally, I find a lot of Criterion’s choices highly debatable. There — I’ve said it.

  8. Ken Hanke

    The tentative plan is to split it with something else come Wed. That won’t be etched in stone till Mon.

  9. Me

    What does that mean split it? Split the two films show times in half? I noticed it only had two show times already on Friday.

  10. Ken Hanke

    It’s on a split bill with another film, so it doesn’t have a complete set of showtimes.

  11. Steven

    [b]Well, if that’s your criteria for Criterion, then sure. I meant Mr. Fox is a better film and I’d both rather watch it multiple times and, possible prosthetics aside, learn about its making than Blue.[/b]

    As far as releasing new films for Blu, yeah, that’s my criteria. I’d rather have this than a film that really doesn’t [i]need[/i] its placement in the collection, other than checking off another Wes Anderson film from the list. There’s really nothing else that they could do with [i]Fox[/i] that could get me to double dip.

    This film, other hand, I’d rather see again, if only for the supposed director’s cut and (hopefully) the substantial amount of extras.

    But I don’t think Fox is the “better film,” so to each their own.

    [b]I suspect he means as a blu-ray.[/b]


    [b]Personally, I find a lot of Criterion’s choices highly debatable. There — I’ve said it.

    I… kind of agree with this. They have been releasing films of late that interest me ([i]Tokyo Story[/i], [i]City Lights[/i], [i]Lonesome[/i]), and I don’t think they’ve released anything recently that is as offensive as [i]Tiny Furniture[/i].

  12. Ken Hanke

    Few things are as offensive as Tiny Furniture, but I still don’t care to see Blue again. (Though I don’t think it’s offensive.)

  13. Steven

    [b]Few things are as offensive as Tiny Furniture[/b]

    From the two episodes I’ve seen, I’d say [i]Girls[/i] is as offensive.

  14. Me

    “From the two episodes I’ve seen, I’d say Girls is as offensive.”

    Because she is naked in each episode.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Well, she’s clearly an exhibitionist, but that’s not why I find Tiny Furniture offensive.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Well, he was clearly wrong. I just have no interest in or sympathy for this whining over-privileged brat.

    Oh, and, Chris — come Wed. Blue is only at 8:20 p.m.

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