The lesbian romance that won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is out on French screens -- stirring more controversy for cast-and-crew disagreements than for the explicit sex scenes.
Abdellatif Kechiche, the Tunisian-born director of “Blue is the Warmest Color,” has hit back after actresses Adele Exarchopoulos, 19, and Lea Seydoux, 28, complained in an interview of his grueling working methods. The squabbles are clouding the movie’s critical triumphs.
The three-hour “Blue” is a chronicle of a teenager’s transition to adulthood. Known in France as “La Vie d’Adele,” it could easily be called “La Vie d’Ado” (short for ’adolescent’).
Adele (Exarchopoulos) is a fairly unexceptional French high-school student: She smokes a lot, likes literature, and dreams of teaching kids. Home is a working-class suburb where evenings are spent watching TV shows over bowls of spaghetti.
Sexually speaking, Adele is unsettled and confused. She goes out with a boy, finds it unsatisfying and doesn’t know why. Then one sunny day, in a crowded square, she notices a young woman with short, blue hair and a same-sex partner.
The next encounter is at a gay bar that the inquisitive Adele has wandered into. Blue-haired Emma -- a confident art student in her twenties -- sidles up to the timid teenager.
The romance unfolds in idyllic settings: a gallery of marble nudes, a shaded park bench, a grassy river bank. They talk oysters, Bob Marley and Jean-Paul Sartre.
The first sex scene was shot over 10 days (according to the actresses). It lasts several minutes, and feels interminable. Kechiche seems to want to stress the ardor of young love, and to knock down taboos about gay lovemaking.
Adele’s high-school friends persecute her. Emma’s bohemian mother and stepfather welcome the pair, raise a glass to “l’amour,” and serve the finest oysters in one of many suggestive food scenes.
Then reality creeps in, slowly taking the relationship out of fairy-tale mode.
As Adele, Exarchopoulos is an outstanding casting choice. A lesser actress might not have led the movie to its well-deserved Palme d’Or.
Throughout the movie, blue is the dominant color: of Emma’s hair, Adele’s wardrobe, club lights, sea waves on the beach.
“For me, the film is a great love story,” Cannes Jury President Steven Spielberg told reporters in May. It “made all of us feel like we were privileged, not embarrassed, to be flies on the wall.”
“Blue is the Warmest Color” is opening in the U.S. on Oct. 25 and in the U.K. on Nov. 15.
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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