But Blue is the Warmest Colour isn’t about sex. Based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude, Kechiche’s film, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, is certainly graphic, but it is at heart a familiar coming of age story, as indebted to Pierre de Marivaux’s unfinished 18th century novel La Vie de Marianne—which Adèle is reading when the film begins—as it is to Maroh’s text. Indeed, the film’s French title is La vie d’Adèle, Chapitres 1 et 2, and its loose sense of time, of events rendered without urgency—the film is 179 minutes long, while the story spans years—is more akin to the rhythms of a novel, a form which cinema has often felt compelled to distance itself from yet from which it still has much to learn. There are scenes that by established cinematic standards would seem to be extraneous, yet one can argue that certain movies are more rewarding when they give story room to breathe.
Not everything in Blue is the Warmest Colour coheres. There is a statement about class that isn’t fully realized, and some of the supporting characters lack dimension. I would concede that the sex is photographed in a somewhat voyeuristic nature—although accusing movies of voyeurism can be a little like accusing a desert of flatness. But the film’s insistence on finding its own pace, Kechiche’s attention to wordless exchanges, emotional tempests and youth’s reckless trajectory are all laudable and absorbing. The film is also a showcase for Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, who you might recognize from Midnight in Paris and Inglorious Bastards. I’ve heard that Kechiche put his actresses through the ringer, especially while filming the raw, explicit sex scenes. I can’t speak to the validity of his methods, but there’s no denying that Exarchopoulos in particular, jejune in the best sense, doubtlessly talented yet seemingly artless, is extraordinary.