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Blue is the Warmest Color

A fair number of people will go to see Blue Is the Warmest Color for entirely the wrong reason, the reason that gave rise to the film’s NC-17 rating and which had attracted far more public attention than, say, the fact that it won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. For those of you, a helpful suggestion: What you want to see occurs about 70 minutes into the film. Buy your ticket then, stick around for maybe 15 minutes, and then quietly leave, so as not to disturb the rest of the audience, who will be captivated by one of the most emotionally immersive films in recent memory.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was adapted from a graphic novel (with its melodramatic excesses softened) by Abdellatif Kechiche, an actor and filmmaker of some repute in France, but never mind that. The film stands on the work of actress Adèle Exarchopoulos in what is the most astonishing international debut since Isabel Adjani in The Story of Adele H. (Is that a comparison Kechiche hoped for? He changed the name of the lead character from Clementine to Adele, and the French title of the film is La vie d’Adèle.)

We first see Adele as a 15-year-old, catching the bus to school, where her favorite subject is literature: She loves to immerse herself in books. In class she is taught that tragedy is what you cannot escape, and to some degree the film is her tragedy: She seeks passion, finds it, is carried away by it, but can’t keep it.

But this is not the lavish amour fou that Adjani portrayed. Kechiche largely trains his camera on his star’s face for long close-ups through much of the film, though it just as often feels as if she has captured the camera and it is unable to look away. You may find yourself wondering, as I did, if it isn’t the case that staring at something long enough creates an obsession. But when time comes for Exarchopoulos to eternalize her character’s feelings, there’s no room for doubt.

Some people will not want to see Blue Is the Warmest Color also for the wrong reasons: because it concerns a gay love story, or because it is three hours long. In its first hour, it does seem that Kechiche is being unduly leisurely, and there are any number of scenes that feel like they could be trimmed. But by the time you get to the end, you won’t regret a single minute of it.

Watch the trailer for Blue is the Warmest Color

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