The French drama "Blue Is the Warmest Color" arrives with its reputation preceding it not only as this year's Palme D'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, but as a sexually frank movie with a rare NC-17 rating.
Once one gets past the festival pedigree and views the explicit sex scenes in context, it becomes crystal clear that director/co-writer Abdellatif Kechiche has created the most emotionally raw and honest coming-of-age story the movies have seen in a long time.
The movie's French title is "La vie d'AdÃ¨le," "The Life of AdÃ¨le," and we meet AdÃ¨le (played by AdÃ¨le Exarchopoulos) as a carefree high-school girl in Lille, France. She has average grades, a gaggle of gossipy female classmates, and a boy or two eager to hook up.
Then she sees Emma (LÃ©a Seydoux), a punkish out lesbian with hair dyed the same blue as her eyes. It's love, or at least lust, at first sight as AdÃ¨le finds herself masturbating one night, and it's the mental image of Emma that allows her to achieve orgasm. (No, that's not the NC-17 part. That's just the warm-up act.)
Soon, AdÃ¨le and Emma meet for real and it's a short step from first kiss to first time in bed. This is the NC-17 part, as Kechiche and cinematographer Sofian El Fani shoot long full-body takes of Exarchopoulos and Seydoux in positions of (barely) simulated sex. The scenes are revealing not just in physical terms, but also in the way both characters surrender themselves to passion and to each other.
Those scenes are the centerpiece of the film, but they only account for a few minutes in a three-hour movie. Kechiche and co-writer Ghalia Lacroix (adapting Julie Maroh's graphic novel) capture the arc of the relationship between AdÃ¨le and Emma, and the milestones of their careers. AdÃ¨le grows from a coltish teen through college training to working as an elementary-school teacher. Emma's art career grows as she goes from small exhibits to being a major name in the Lille art scene and leaving AdÃ¨le lost among in Emma's intellectual circle.
All the weight of this drama is placed on the two actresses, and they carry it with gusto. Seydoux, who has worked with everyone from Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris") to Tom Cruise (in the last "Mission: Impossible" movie), exudes sexual confidence and ferocity as the uncompromising Emma. The real discovery is Exarchopoulos, who captures AdÃ¨le's metamorphosis from gawky adolescence to assured adulthood and, as "Blue Is the Warmest Color" ends, looking hopefully to the next stage.
'Blue Is the Warmest Color'
A relationship between two women, told in the most raw, emotional and physical terms in this sexually explicit French drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • OpensFriday, Nov. 8.
Rating • NC-17 for explicit sexual content.
Running time • 179 minutes; in French with subtitles.