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TIFF Review: Blue is the Warmest Color Is Full of Warmth, With a Side of Blues

By Laremy Legel | Film | September 7, 2013 |

By Laremy Legel | Film | September 7, 2013 |

At just under three hours, the French film Blue is the Warmest Color would seem, from the outside looking in, to be a journey into the sleepy realms of slow-cooked cinema. Not the case! Offering a surprising lightness (surprising because it’s oftentimes melancholy), the film makes the time investment here well worth it, a finer relationship film you’re unlikely to see all year.

We meet Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) during her tumultuous junior year in high school, the young woman’s sullen amber eyes and constantly bedraggled mane of hair conveying to the audience that’s she’s every teen the world round, confused, vulnerable, and with no small amount of angst as to her place in the world. Adele’s main cross to bear is her sexuality. She’s encouraged to chat and gossip about boys with the rest of the gals, but instead she’s coming to grips with the idea that she might just be a lesbian. Enter the bright blue-haired Emma (Lea Seydoux), an art school student in her final year of college. She’s alternatively confident in her penchant for women, and instantly drawn to the smoldering unknown that is Adele. A crackling chemistry is apparent from the outset between Emma and Adele; the vast majority of the film will be spent as a character and relationship study, striking at the soul of what it is to yearn.

The main feature of Adele, her first real inroad to your heart, is her pure youth and inexperience. In a lesbian bar she’s as wobbly as a baby calf, and in matters of the heart she barely registers what words are to be said when. She’s grasping, scratching and clawing for any sort of stable place in the universe, but she’s not entirely clear on how not to continually come apart at the seams. Actors Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos are outstanding throughout, pulling off amazing feats of skill, from capably mimicking that look you give someone when you want to kiss them, but want them to want it too, all the way down to the sadness a person projects to the world when they’re feeling taken for granted.

The main flaw in this mostly flawless little diamond is the overt, fully NC-17 sex scenes that comprise a good 15 minutes of the movie. It’s not that this rampant nod to lesbian sexuality couldn’t work in another story about ten miles away from this one, because it surely could. The issue that presents itself here is the complete tonal shift between a youngling finding her way in the world followed immediately by a good third of The Kama Sutra being played out, and then right back to our regularly scheduled coming-of-age film. Indeed, the film is so intimate, in both its composition and structure, that these huge doses of pure physical sexuality act as a jarring disconnect from the soft and subtle work that Blue is the Warmest Color is undertaking during every other scene.

The great part about a movie this long, if it is done well, is that it doesn’t need to fulfill some specific story obligation with each and every second. As it boasts over 10,000 seconds to work with, Blue is the Warmest Color can afford to take the time needed to pull you into Adele’s world, and it accomplishes this with true elegance. You want her to be happy, you root for her, you’re despondent when she is, and you’re constantly checking in with her emotional state to ascertain where we’re headed. Adele is a fascinating character, and the years that transpire as we watch her journey are both lovely and sad.

If great film is built upon engagement, then this effort must be considered a rousing success. Blue is the Warmest Color is a work of delightfully layered sophistication, a movie you want to follow out even further than the sand and sunshine, all the way out into the deep blue ocean sea.

Laremy Legel is a member of the Online Film Critic’s Society, wrote a book about being a film crtiic, and traveled among the Juggaloes for 60 hours and lived to write about it. You can follow Laremy on Twitter.