My top pick this week is the infamous 2013 Palme d'Or winner "Blue is the Warmest Color". With its provocative sexual content, the film received the rare NC-17 rating and has been the talk of the town since its illustrious Cannes premiere. However, once you get around to watching it you'll find it's so much more than just raunchy sex scenes.
On the surface, "Blue is the Warmest Color" seems like your typical romance drama, albeit with a lesbian relationship. This is no ordinary love story however, as it sidesteps the easy sentimental tricks for a more raw, profound experience. Our protagonist is a teenaged girl named Emma who is dissatisfied with her relationships with boys at her high school. She spots the older Emma (a Fine Arts college student) one day and feels an instant connection. By chance, they meet up in a bar one day and lust soon turns to love. As we chart their fiery relationship, we see all the highs and lows of love.
Apart from this key romance, this is also a fascinating take on "coming of age". When we first meet Adele, she's jaded, anxious and essentially unhappy. Over the course of the following 3 hours, we see an awakening of the passion within her. By the end of it she's more mature and confident. Evidently, it's not just an erotic passion (though that's a huge part of it), but a renewed enthusiasm for life in general. That's what draws Adele to Emma, this enticing representation of a better life.
Indeed, the script perfectly sells the allure of Emma. From our very first introduction to her, we can immediately sense the intelligence and radiant joy that matches her physical beauty. Lea Seydoux's portrayal of Emma leaves you utterly mesmerized, making it easy to understand Adele's feelings. Even more than Emma though, the screenplay digs deep into the heart and soul of Adele. The lengthy running time is a major asset, as it allows the film to take its time to develop the characters. Whereas a similar romance film would use a "10 years later" title card to skip to the latter stages of the relationship, this one takes you through the full journey with these lovers. The writing is so rich and thoughtful that every little detail matters. For example, an off-hand comment about Adele's voraciousness informs every ill-advised decision she makes. Every action is completely believable and true to character.
Yes, the screenplay deserves high praise but you only notice its strength because of the stunning performance of its star Adele Exarchopoulos. It's a role with a high degree of difficulty as the director demands a lot. It's shot almost entirely in tight closeups (and I'm not just referring to her face), practically redefining the term "character study". She therefore deserves a lot of credit (especially as a young actress) for being able to command the screen in such an infinitely compelling way. Hers is truly a generous performance. She's constantly projecting to the audience, the cinematographer and the director. By the end of it, we feel like we know everything about Adele. Furthermore, she has sizzling chemistry with the brilliant Lea Seydoux. Kechiche clearly agrees, as he orchestrates some of the most vivid sex scenes ever put on screen (outside of pornography of course). Yes, they're a bit gratuitous and voyeuristic, but I think they effectively demonstrate the contrast between their relationship and Adele's dispassionate heterosexual flings. Some may find the film a bit too long and the length of these sex scenes are a frequent complaint. However, Kechiche is crafting such a rich story that I find these complaints futile. It's no wonder that the film's French title is "La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2" (The Life of Adèle - Chapters 1 and 2).
In summary, "Blue is the Warmest Color" is an unflinching examination of that once in a lifetime love, warts and all. It's the kind of love that consumes you so fully that the bad days can set your mental state totally off balance. The film illustrates this beautifully with a palpable passion in its richly-defined characters that is only matched by its amazing cast, writers and director. It's simply outstanding.