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