Say this for Blue is the Warmest Color, the Cannes award winner that is as famous for its long, explicit sex scenes as it is for its honors and actresses: It earns the NC-17 rating the Motion Picture Association of America imposed on it.
This overlong, somewhat sad-faced account of a lesbian romance, from its beginnings to its end, features what has already become the most notorious lesbian sex scene in screen history 10 minutes of grappling, groping and bare-skin slapping that flirts with pornography.
The movie surrounding that epic moment of titillation? A bit slack, repetitious and sometimes frustrating. Blue, titled La Vie Adele in France, is a 100-minute movie straining to break out of a 3-hour argument for tighter editing.
We meet Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) as a 17-year-old high school junior with a lot of girlfriends given to frank talk about boys and sex. In a long first act, we see the bookish Adele, all mussed hair and lips that default to a sort of depressed pout, deal with the confusion she feels amid the peer pressure to hook up.
Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte) is interested. But he doesnt do it for her. Adeles erotic dreams are about the girl with the short, blue hair she glimpsed in a crowd. And when she finally meets Emma (Lea Seydoux of Farewell, My Queen and Midnight in Paris), Adele learns what chemistry is all about.
Emma is a college fine-arts major who wonders if Adele is a straight girl whos a little curious. But she likes her type young, inexperienced. Adele lures Emma out of her long-term affair and Emma teaches Adele all about being gay in France pride parades, introduction to the art crowd, the works. And she instructs the younger woman about sex.
The second act of the film sees them cohabitating, Adele now teaching school, Emma an artist on the rise.
The only intolerance that turns up in this enlightened French world comes from Adeles mean-girl teen peers. Her parents accept her, she has a gay pal, and her transition into this world is mostly drama free.
Director and co-writer Abdellatif Kechiche pours most of his effort into the signature sex scenes. Everything else exists to establish Adeles character, her pragmatic life, her state of mind. And theres too much of that, too many scenes that dont advance the story and too many that go on and on after making their point.
But Exarchopoulos is a revelation, wearing her neediness, vulnerability and arousal with every muscle in her face, her posture, even her hair. Its an utterly naked performance, literally and figuratively.
You can see where a director might become so besotted with his star that hed be reluctant to trim her scenes and her star vehicle to a more digestible length. But that robs Blue of some of its pathos and warmth, if not its heat.