‘Blue’ much more than just explicit sex scenes

“Blue Is the Warmest Color” is, on the one hand, a three-hour lesbian love story about two French women of different classes, partially set in the art world, with a certain amount of NC-17 rated sex included. Alternate summary: This is a love story.

I prefer the latter description. Abdellatif Kechiche’s film, which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, is rooted in the specifics of its situation, but is universal in ways that make it belong to everybody.

Our main character is Adele, played by the splendid Adele Exarchopoulos. She begins as a high-school student and grows up during the years that unfold onscreen, most of which revolve around her relationship with Emma (Lea Seydoux).

Emma is a dashing figure, artsy and experienced, with upper-class parents and intellectual friends. It’s a lot to handle for Adele, who comes from humbler origins and really just wants to teach grade-school kids.

As the bedroom scenes suggest, there is a strong physical connection here, but the movie is much more than that, and gives a fair reading of why a love affair might thrive and/or founder.

None of which really suggests the gorgeous, inquisitive flow of this film, which needs its three hours to allow us to live in Adele’s world and know its contours. Kechiche’s previous high point, “The Secret of the Grain,” was similarly dawdling in the way it encouraged immersion in a time and place.

The film’s length also allows the sex scenes to take their proper role in Adele’s world: Their duration shows us how much they matter, but they don’t actually take up that much time when folded into the larger dish. And why shouldn’t a movie about a relationship include a healthy amount of sex? The rightness of the lovemaking here reminds how many love stories are lying by not including the heavy-breathing nitty-gritty.

“Blue” has caught some flak since Cannes for the fact of its 52-year-old male director presuming to make a film about women in love. If I weren’t bored to tears by the triviality of this issue I might point out that the movie itself (based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh) repeatedly raises the question of how difficult it is to understand another person, including a long scene in which some pompous males spout off about the essence of womankind.

Emma herself is an artist trying to capture Adele as her subject, rendering her in a series of canvases that her more inexperienced model doesn’t entirely understand. “It’s me and it isn’t me,” says a puzzled Adele when she sees herself as a painting.

She doesn’t know who she is yet, but her exit from the film’s strong final sequence suggests she is ready to slip the frames others have put around her — including the movie itself.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color” (3½ stars)

A three-hour tour through the life of a young woman (the splendid Adele Exarchopoulos) who has a relationship with an artist (Lea Seydoux) over a few years. Abdellatif Kechiche’s movie really needs its length to immerse us in the flow of this moving coming-of-age tale, which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. In French, with English subtitles.

Rated: NC-17 for nudity, subject matter.

Showing: Harvard Exit.

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