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Sex Isn’t Everything

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Posted on Oct 30, 2013
IFC Films

By Richard Schickel

Let’s get this out of the way first: The sex in “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is generous, quite startlingly intimate, genuinely erotic and very soberly presented. In fact, I’m going to say that it is probably about as good as it is ever going to get in what I guess is more or less a mainstream movie. That’s to say, I enjoyed the couplings of Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. They are earnest and exploratory—not exactly having a good time, but yet serious and unembarrassed. You can’t help but like them and wish them well in their new adventure, which—you know from the start – will end not exactly badly, but rather sadly—“bonjour tristesse,” and all that.

The film won major prizes at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring both for the leading actresses and the director (Abdellatif Kechiche), who co-wrote it, and it arrives here on a wave of critical approval, which it doesn’t quite deserve. It is a long film (near three hours in length) that doesn’t quite earn its length or the sobriety with which we are invited to take it. The women are very attractive—no question about that—but, on the other hand, not exactly the souls of wit. And their affair winds on for what seems years, before it ends sadly (if possibly a little more wisely). They are, to put it gently, rather slow learners in the art of love.

I mean that there are no visible extenuating circumstances in their affair. One could, I think, imagine their relationship as much shorter—and more intense—than it is portrayed here. There is some inexplicable need for them to explore every nuance of what seems to me at least a rather routine encounter. In the end, it’s just sort of a muddle; it is not “Anna Karenina.” The movie has some amusing incidents—the business of belatedly learning to like oysters is nicely judged, for instance—but not enough of them to justify its wandering ways. I kept wanting its players to have more fun with the story—to strike more lightsome notes. In films of this kind, you don’t really want to start looking forward to the skin scenes. You want them to just happen, not to be the be-all and end-all of the enterprise. Who, by the way, ever said “blue” is the warmest color? Or that the tone of the title could sustain our interest over the very long haul of a small movie that is striving beyond its natural bounds?

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