Since the epic lesbian romance “Blue Is the Warmest Color” won an unprecedented shared Palme d’Or for its director and two actresses from a Cannes jury headed by Stephen Spielberg, passions have flared.
The stars publicly denounced their director. Detractors call the three-hour drama unfocused, overlong and exploitative, pointing to its lengthy graphic sex scenes. Admirers call it intimate, daringly naturalistic and grandly passionate, pointing to its lengthy graphic sex scenes.
The truth lies somewhere between.
This coming-out and coming-of-age story mirrors the awkward messiness of young romance. It could be an hour shorter, but it couldn’t really exist without the 10 minutes or so devoted to the lead characters’ lovemaking. They articulate the awakening of young Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and later her despair over her dying love affair, in a way no other expression could equal. We fall into, and out of love, physically as well as emotionally.
From the moment the French high-schooler sees college art student Emma (Léa Seydoux) while crossing a street, it’s clear that Emma has Adèle’s heart — and the stronger cards in the relationship.
Exarchopoulos, an apple-cheeked ingénue, shows us Adèle’s uncertainty as she tentatively dabbles with heterosexual dating. Admitting her nature means facing a gauntlet of schoolyard gossips and launching into an unknown world. Still, for her idealized, love-at-first-sight notion of Emma, no sacrifice could be too great.
The doe-eyed Seydoux reads her intense longing when they meet again and fans Adèle’s romantic spark into a conflagration.
Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche lingers not only over their lovemaking, but everyday scenes of meals, work and leisure time. With Adèle as her muse, Emma’s career as a painter lifts off; Adèle thrives in her job as a primary school teacher. The artist’s bohemian parents welcome Adèle warmly. Her provincial folks have no clue how close a friend to their daughter Emma has become. At a dinner party a windbag male mentor of Emma’s holds forth on the differences between male and female desire.
Every mundane experience is another of the lovers’ shared memories. Yet class differences, cheating and a lack of common interests drive a wedge between them. Kechiche films the widening rupture in a way that feels like a melancholy memory of the first great loss after the first great love. The film’s French title is “The Life of Adèle, Chapters 1 and 2.” At the fade-out, you feel, with sympathy and hope, how much more lies ahead of her.