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From left, Adele, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, and Emma, played by Lèa Seydoux, in Blue is the Warmest Color.

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★★★★★

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche

Starring Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux and Salim Kechiouche

Rated NC-17

Now playing

Blue is the Warmest Color, or La Vie d’Adèle, chapters 1 et 2 in its original French title, is a tender, wrenching, heart-gripping love story about a teenage girl Adèle, her coming of age, falling in lesbian love for the first time, and subsequent devastating heartbreak. A loose adaptation of the graphic novel by Julie Maroh, it is melancholic, raw, emotional, powerful, and yes, it is sexy, but it is the loving that makes it so, the traumatic loving.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche depicts an intimate portrait of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), making it impossible not to fall in love with her. We see her at the tender age of 15 or 16, with baby fat cheeks, a pouty mouth, and a lust for everything sensual — she hides candies under her bed, is an avid reader, dances to her heart’s content, and has the appetite of a wolf. She is more self-confident than she is aware of, and more charming and better-looking than she knows. Her curiosity is not shy, nor are her opinions, but they are never delivered with a “know-it-all” attitude. She is honest. Kechiche presents her in full sloppy teen glory: delightfully messy hair, runny nose, open-mouthed eating, enraptured in pleasure or angst, constantly alone. We love her, feel for her, and feel with her.

Adèle is in her inquisitive prime, discovering and defining what makes her. Naturally pretty and popular, though different from the pack, she has female fans as well as male ones, and yields in trying things with both. She has a short-lived and disinterested affair with hottie classmate Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), and a much more exciting kissing exchange with a gorgeous girl who confesses liking her, but who is sadly not willing to sustain the relationship.

But everything changes one day while crossing the street, when she locks eyes with Emma (Léa Seydoux), a blue-haired, artist-type girl with cropped hair, a gap in her teeth, and lusty eyes. Adèle takes the flash encounter all the way to her dreams, surprising herself at the arousal it causes. Then one night, with her one good gay friend, she ventures off into the wild side: she leaves him behind and finds herself in a lesbian bar, not looking for anything except perhaps confirmation. She is the youngest, freshest, and most naive among the hungry crowd. Emma happens to be there, and she starts cleverly seducing her. After a few philosophical conversations — a first glimpse into the power dynamic that will eventually help to destroy everything — they are tearing each other’s clothes off and engaging in what might be the longest, most explicit sex scene I’ve ever seen. And though it might be called audacious at best, if not self-indulgent, the warm and sensual feeling it initially evokes is transformed into some sort of joke given the unnecessary lengthiness and almost weird explicitness of it, washing away anything poetic about it (my colleague and I had an awkward laughter attack at the whole situation).

Years go by (the movie is a 3-hour-long saga), and we meet the parents. Adèle’s are working-class, conventional, and pragmatic; they refer to art as frivolous over pasta. Emma’s are bohemian intellectuals, serving oysters for dinner and embracing the homosexuality of their artist daughter. We see Adèle and Emma living together at Emma’s place, who is still an aspiring painter, and we meet Emma’s glamorous friends, who see Adèle as a lovely otherworldly creature, but definitely not one of them. Adèle has accomplished her ambition of being a schoolteacher, and is loving and tender and happy with simple pleasures. However, Emma’s ambitions seem to spill over, because she is concerned about Adèle’s lack of loftiness and so pushes her to “be happy”, unaware that she is indeed happy, if perhaps with less. The two slowly drift apart, and Adèle is cornered. She adores Emma, her philosophy tutor and life-changing partner, but her joie de vivre seems to have become unnecessary self-awareness of unexpected insecurities. Her ultimate betrayal arises from loneliness, damage and sadness, not from lust. She is somehow both the victim and the one to blame. It is a melancholic, sad story.

More years go by, and with it failed attempts to rekindle the flame, and later to maintain a friendship. Emma becomes the famous painter she aspired to be, comfortably content with her painter partner and her child, while Adèle is perpetually trying to recover by confronting what she never had. We long for her to be happy but secretly doubt she ever will be.

Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux are magnificent. They deliver potent, soulful performances, and though the camera work might be a bit heavy on the close-ups side, they are so beautiful, helped by a natural look accomplished by great lighting, costumes and acting, that this is easily forgiven. And yes, the film is long, a good 3 hours, with many of the scenes being quite banal, but they are so quotidian that they become amusing.

In short, Blue Is the Warmest Color is an intimate, passionate, resonating love story not to be missed.