Movie review: Controversial “Blue is the Warmest Color” deserves to be seen

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From the November 14, 2013 edition

Since winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, “Blue is the Warmest Color” has been steadily receiving both accolades and criticism. This week, Columbus moviegoers can decide for themselves.

The near-three-hour art flick is getting most attention for its lengthy and graphic lesbian sex scenes — which garnered the film an NC-17 rating stateside, because this is America and we prefer to let our children watch warmaking rather than lovemaking, dammit!

And “Blue” is a love story, through and through, a sweeping, compelling and occasionally flawed love story.

We first meet Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) as an awkward 15-year-old (is there any other kind, really?). She has a brief romance with a handsome male classmate that leaves her unfulfilled and confused. Then she meets an older mysterious blue-haired art student named Emma (Léa Seydoux).

Over the next three hours, we witness Adèle and Emma fall into — and then out of — love.

The range of emotion and the lengthy running time will have some viewers feeling raw. I often rant against the self-indulgence of long running times, but “Blue” generally earns it. Love stories should be left to unfold slowly, as they tend to do in real life.

It’s a shame the onscreen sex is grabbing all the headlines. I generally find sex scenes to be distracting in film, and director Abdellatif Kechiche is setting himself up for criticism by drawing them out as he does — particularly as a male director of a story like this.

But the scenes of passion play against the eventual crumbling of the relationship. Would it have been as devastating to the viewer without them? Likely not.

The lead actresses are simply superb, and I hope the controversy doesn’t scare away Oscar voters. The range and rawness of emotion on hand is haunting and exhausting.

Some may also criticize the film for not delving more deeply into the aspects of sexual identity, though I found that the treatment of this as nearly incidental was refreshing. We love who we love, and that is seldom on display quite as fully as in “Blue is the Warmest Color.” See for yourself.

Photo courtesy of IFC Films