Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart said he didn’t know the definition of pornography, “but I know it when I see it.” Mark Twain is credited with an early version of the quote, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”
Both of those great Americans might be flummoxed by the French import “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” a love story so erotically charged that it short circuits our higher functions. I’m pretty sure it would still be one of the best films of the year if the explicit lesbian sex scenes were censored, but it wouldn’t earn a penny in Peoria.
Such a potent strain of documentary-style cinema rarely spreads to the provinces. The film is three hours long, and among its many teases is a hint that it could be the beginning of a series. It could never have flown across the Atlantic without the aid of angels.
Adèle Exarchopoulos, a newcomer to American audiences, plays a pouty-lipped high school student named Adele (thus hinting at the fuzzy line between truth and fiction). Adele the character (and perhaps the actress) is like a seedling planted in the fertile French soil. She’s a giggly girl who gossips about boys and succumbs to the seductions of a mop-topped immigrant boy (Salim Kechiouche) who likes heavy metal and doesn’t like books.
But Adele loves learning and thinks she might want to be a teacher. She gets a bittersweet lesson when a female classmate kisses her and then stays silent when their classmates taunt Adele for visiting a gay bar.
That’s where she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux with helpfully color-coded hair), a college art student who is loud and proud about her sexuality. A gay parade in Paris is an exhilarating first date, and soon Adele is hooked on the blue-haired beauty and the bohemian world she represents.
A 10-minute sex scene in the film is so steamy that it shocked the French, but they know what they like, and the jury at Cannes declared Exarchopoulos and Seydoux the inseparable best actresses of the fest, while director Abdellatif Kechiche won the coveted Palme d’Or award.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color” is an emotionally raw, naturalistically acted and cinematically astute coming-of-age story that also happens to be very, very hot. As I used to tell my mom about the magazines under my mattress, I’m more interested in the words than the pictures.
What “Blue Is the Warmest Color” • Three and a half stars out of four • Rating NC-17 • Run time 2:59 • Content Nudity, explicit sexual content and strong language • Language French with subtitles • Where Tivoli