If its steamy reputation out of Cannes gets people in the theater, then so be it: Abdellatif Kechiche’s tender (and occasionally explicit) lesbian romance deserves all the eyeballs it can get. Porn seekers be warned, though: This nearly three-hour sprawl of complex sexual awakening, shifting power dynamics and multiyear heartache will bum-rush you with deeper emotions. Be prepared to cheer at the tentative, then robust connection between budding high-school senior Adèle (the touching Adèle Exarchopoulos) and slightly older Emma (Léa Seydoux), a punky painter in need of a muse. And as time passes and their passions cool, brace to feel their pain.
The meal here is made of the many subtle exchanges between the two leads, both remarkably open and unencumbered by the problems a lesser plot would impose. (To the movie’s credit, their sexual orientation is barely an issue.) An early park-bench flirtation simmers with fragile half-smiles; later, after they move in together, their apartment lifestyle breeds cozy domesticity and a quiet power struggle for attention. The endgame isn’t pretty. Still, their fights ease into a complex mood of regret. Rarely do love affairs get this microscopic an examination (onscreen, at least).
Elegantly and leisurely, Kechiche builds a realistic slice of modern-day French bohemia, mostly shot in the northern city of Lille, a place of sunny backyard parties, gallery shows and career-making phone calls. The rich atmosphere of the movie may be the sexiest thing about it: It’s no wonder these women breathe in the air of possibility and find themselves imbued with boldness. Blue Is the Warmest Color is primarily a film for and about young people; it may linger a touch too troublingly on bodies in tangled bliss, but you can’t deny the film its inner soul.
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