The colorful, electrifying romance that took the Cannes Film Festival by storm courageously dives into a young woman's experiences of first love and sexual awakening. Blue Is the Warmest Color stars the remarkable newcomer Adèle Excharpoulos as a high schooler who, much to her own surprise, plunges into a thrilling relationship with a female twentysomething art student, played by Léa Seydoux. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, this finely detailed, intimate epic sensitively renders the erotic abandon of youth. It has captivated international audiences and been widely embraced as a defining love story for the new century.
So rarely does a film perfectly encapsulate the epic journey of a single relationship. The fevered anticipation of meeting someone interesting; the enveloping ravenous lust that takes over when everything is so exciting and so new; the slow-building love and admiration for another person; the inevitable mistakes that lead to impending despair; and the heartbreaking regret of what could have been.
'Blue is the Warmest Color,' is adapted from Julie March's graphic novel "Blue Angel." In the film, Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) is a young, confused French teen. Like many teens she struggles to find an identity within her group of friends. At the beginning she's unsure of herself around her friends. She tries to fit in, sidling up to the fringe of the group, laughing with them, smoking with them, but never really interacting with them. Adele's life is all surface deep up to this point. She's searching for something more, but this is all she's got to work with. Until, one day, she spots a blue-haired beauty on the street. Adele is mesmerized.
The girl with blue hair is Emma (Lea Seydoux). It's easy to tell that Emma is a lesbian, but up until this point we aren't sure what Adele is. She's attracted immediately to Emma, but it takes her a while to come to grips with her own sexuality.
What transpires is a beautiful journey of one girl trying to figure out who she is, and another girl who finds love in all the wrong places. What's so intoxicating about 'Blue is the Warmest Color' is watching Adele grow from a teenager to a woman seamlessly. The movie covers a wide expanse of time – how much we're not really sure – and Adele grows right along with it. With minimal makeup and costume changes, Adele appears to age as the movie presses on toward its lengthy 179 minute runtime. Exarchopoulos shows some astonishing acting skill by making us believe that she's really growing and evolving from a girl to a woman. It's a slow, but deliberate and rewarding process.
Much has been made of 'Blue is the Warmest Color's graphic sex scenes. The movie earned an NC-17 rating, and rightly so. The scenes are graphic, but they play a part in the overall story. Here's a girl who has been so reserved for so long, she's finally ready to let loose. Then she finds this mysterious, sexy stranger and everything falls into place. It's a fever dream of skin and passion. Sadly, because of these scenes the movie has been written off by some as "that lesbian movie." In the age of the Internet those scenes, which amount to only a fraction of the film, have garnered the most comment. Are we all not human? Haven't we, at one time or another felt that kind of unbridled passion? Maybe we haven't, but others have. Where some have derided these scenes as pornographic, or over the top, I see two women who have finally found each other and they want to express their love for one another. Sex, seems like a great outlet for that, don't you think?
I can't remember the last time I saw such an effective, and engrossing, coming-of-age story. It felt real, and unfiltered. A deep and intimate look at a single tumultuous relationship between two people. The dangers of unchecked desire, and how easy it is to hurt the ones you care about. 'Blue is the Warmest Color' was one of my favorite films from last year.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Criterion has released 'Blue is the Warmest Color' on a single 50GB Blu-ray Disc. Housed in Criterion's trademark clear case, this release comes with a spine number of 695, and a foldout. The foldout contains an essay entitled "Feeling Blue" by B. Ruby Rich, editor of Film Quarterly. There's also the standard notes about the cast, the transfer, and production notes.
The first time I saw this film was on a god-awful, buffering online press screener. As you can imagine it was full of all sorts of blocking, aliasing, and everything else that distracts one's attention from watching a film. Simply, it was an agonizing experience. Why was it so agonizing? Because I could actually see that it was a strikingly beautiful movie. One that used natural light expertly. A film that captured the beauty of being outside, in France. I knew I was missing out on a visual feast, and it made me angry. After I got done watching it I said, "Man, I can't wait until that comes out on Blu-ray so I can watch it properly."
So, here we are. 'Blue is the Warmest Color' is out in high definition and it looks every bit as great as I thought it would. Filmed digitally, this film is a very clean looking presentation. Yet, it still has that cinematic look that is so important to achieve when filming digitally. It never looks overly flat, which is what I always worry about when a low-budget film is shot digitally.
Color is a little muted, clarity a little soft, but it's meant to be that way. It provides the look and feel the movie is going for. That said, colors are still striking. Detail is beautifully rendered. It doesn't matter if the film is shooting outside or inside, mid-range or close-up, every shot has noticeably pleasing detail. There is some crushing here and there in darker scenes. Usually, movies shot digitally suffer from this at one point or another. There wasn't much that Criterion had to restore here, since the film was just shot. Though the image does contain that near-perfect Criterion look we've come to expect from their releases.
We're given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that does exactly what it's asked to do. If you haven't seen the film you can probably guess that this is going to be a front heavy film. With a hefty amount of dialogue, a large percentage of the film's sound is centered in the front and center channels. There's some great directionality going on here, so that's a plus. Even with most of the sound focused up front, it still moves around quite well when it needs to.
Surround sound is sparse. A clubbing scene here, or a walk in the city there. When the rear channels are called upon to do their work they provide a nuanced sound scape. Light traffic, chirping birds, crowds of people walking French streets, it's all heard well in the rear channels when it needs to be.
Dialogue is always clear. I didn't notice any distortion bleeding into the track. It all sounded great as far as clarity goes. It's a soft spoken, but effective audio mix.
Rushing to get this out the door in order to exploit the praise this movie is getting, Criterion has released a bare bones edition. The only special features include a trailer and a TV spot. At some point they're release a more substantial package of the film. Until then, this is basically a movie-only package from Criterion. A shame really, since Criterion is known for its attention to detail when it comes to providing worthwhile special feature packages.
Watching it a second time, 'Blue is the Warmest Color' didn't lose any of its luster. It's still on my favorite films of 2013 list. It's just such a well-made film. Perfectly constructed to take us through this journey of lust, love, and heartache. When the end rolls around you don't believe you've been sitting there close to three hours. It goes by so fast. I don't know what else to say. I love this film. It rises above the perceived controversy of its sex scenes and presents a beautiful portrait of two women who find each other.
Sadly, this appears to be a rush job from Criterion. No special features means they were trying to get this sucker out while it was still fresh in people's minds. There will likely be a special edition release in the future. Rumor has it that it could have a different cut of the film on it. Who knows? What we do know is that if you're looking for something more substantial you're better off waiting for the later release. So even though the film is marvelous, and the audio and video are both superbly done, it's still just lightly recommended. Those who can't wait, pick this up. Those who are more patient, wait it out and get the upcoming release with all the extra Criterion goodies.