Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (NC-17) The year's most controversial, acclaimed and talked about foreign art house movie has finally made it to the United States. French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche's hothouse Blue Is the Warmest Color won the prestigious Palme d'Or earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, a prize that was later overshadowed by the illuminating and disquieting comments the two lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, made in the press about the backstage behavior of Kechiche and his work methods. In reaction, Kechiche announced that he felt his movie had been ruined by their harsh words and that it should not be released. Overreaction? Of course! God love the French.
Luckily, none of the PR bullshit can sully what is on the screen, which is ultimately the only thing that matters when it comes to cinema. So what is all the ballyhoo about? Well, it's simply a love story—though one charged with passion, intimacy and a bewildering storm of intensity we haven't seen in a long, long time. Teenager Adèle (Exarchopoulous) bumps along in her young life, meets a slightly older woman, Emma (Seydoux), and falls in love with her. Their relationship fires up quickly, then erupts into full-on obsession. But this three-hour character study does not focus merely on the heights of their romance. What makes Blue Is the Warmest Color unique, fascinating and hauntingly devastating is how it chronicles the tempering and eventual demise of a love affair in such uncomfortable microscopic detail. Kechiche and his cinematographer Sofian El Fani opt for pure naturalism here, rarely intruding psychologically in order to unbalance the illusion with needless emotional melodrama. Only one moment in particular disrupts the balance—an otherwise brilliant late scene at a party when Adèle grapples with the suspicion that Emma may be sparking interest in another woman, while the doomed Lulu (Louise Brooks) flashes on the big screen in Pabt's Pandora's Box behind her. It's an overt intrusion, but one both fascinatingly needed, illuminating and gloriously visual.
Although Kechiche's direction is softly controlled, yet vibrantly cinematic here (have close-ups been so boldly used since Sergio Leone's work?), the real energy flowing through this odyssey of desire and loss are Exarchopoulous and Seydoux. Both deliver magnificent, memorable and revelatory performances. They own every scene they are in, especially Exarchopoulous, and they allow us to burrow deep within their story. Blue Is the Warmest Color is contemporary cinema at its best and one of the finest romantic dramas in many a season.