Life in 179 minutes

If you’ve heard of Blue is the Warmest Color at all, you’ve heard that it features a fairly explicit sex scene between our protagonist and her first girlfriend. If you’ve heard a little more about Blue, you’ve heard that the director and his actresses have been feuding in the awesome way Europeans do.

Here’s the thing, though. The thing is that Blue is the Warmest Color is a really great film. Like, still-with-me-over-a-week-later good. I’m not familiar with director Abdel Kechiche’s other films, but he’s achieved something nearing epic in Blue, something that won’t soon be forgotten. The story of Adele, a young woman (Adele Exarchopoulos in her debut role) who blossoms from shy teen to artist’s muse to road-weary young woman, Blue is epic in its scope (covering so many formative years in one woman’s life) and emotional range (asking of its lead passion in every one of its guises). Exarchopoulos is at turns timid and reserved; then sexual and alluring; then damaged and raging; then gentle and unassuming; and everything in between.

And at nearly 3 hours long, it’s an epic run time devoted to her emotional journey, an investment that pays off.

The fact that Blue is the story of a relationship between two women is secondary at best; more, it is the story of first loves and vulnerability and what we hope to find in another and what we discover is really there (or isn’t). It’s two very different worlds sorting out how and if they can merge at all – a straight-laced suburban teen and the free-spirit, blue-haired artist who catches her eye as they pass on the street. It’s about awakening to what’s possible when all you’d known before is what’s available.

And what of the infamous love scene? Overblown, at best. In a world inundated with sex, to say the scene is exploitative is an overstatement that doesn’t do the purpose of the moment any justice. Is it explicit? I suppose so. But as any good film does, it’s a scene that sheds light on its characters, offers an insight that only those not paying attention would call meaningless. Instead, I found its contrast to an earlier love scene, when Adele sleeps with her new boyfriend at school, striking and incredibly meaningful. Here’s a woman who just gave herself to a guy in the way she figures she’s supposed to, and clearly got nothing out of it. Is this it? Fast forward through the initial meet cute, the wooing and flirting to Adele and Emma’s first night together, and you realize what a life-changing experience it is for her – you can practically see her identity forming on screen.

I’m tempted to say its too bad a wonderful film is getting overshadowed by its behind-the-scenes drama, its treatment of mature scenes and its NC-17 rating. But then, the film cleared $101,000 on 4 screens this weekend. If it were on the 3,000 screens Gravity is currently on, that’d be an astounding $75M weekend. So, you know, whatever gets you to the theater. Fortunately for audiences, Blue has more to stand on than PR stunts alone. It’s the real deal.