The scandal preceding 'Blue Is the Warmest Color' -- involving very public fights between director Abdellatif Kechiche and stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopolous -- almost seems worth it when viewing the end result: a beautiful, moving, highly emotional piece of drama featuring unquestionably exhausting work from its two female leads. It's a film that's the result of the relentless labors of its director and stars, and the kind of story that requires an emotional toll to be paid from those involved. At film's end, you sort of walk away just as exhausted as Seydoux and Exarchopolous must have been. 

'Blue Is the Warmest Color' follows a young, bright high school senior named Adele (Exarchopolous), an average sort of teenager who obnoxiously devours pasta at the dinner table -- matched by her voracious reading habits -- and who worries over the boy who likes her at school. But when she finally dates that boy, she realizes something is missing. He's a great guy and his touches feel nice, but there's something missing on her end; there's something missing in her. A chance encounter with a blue-haired artist named Emma (Seydoux) turns her life upside down, and suddenly blue is creeping into her life, signaling Adele's awakening to what might be her true self.

The film really takes off when Adele and Emma finally engage in a relationship. The chemistry between Seydoux and Exarchopolous is electric, and when the pair do something as simple as exchange loaded glances, the tension is exquisite, a real testament to the heavy-lifting from both of these young actresses. While Seydoux is the more recognizable name and does her fair share of remarkable performing, newcomer Exarchopolous is the real centerpiece. There's a reason the French title is 'The Life of Adele'; this is a story about one woman's journey, adrift in the sea of life, struggling to find her anchor in another person and unable to find passion within herself.

Kechiche's direction is subdued, making room for these actresses to use every space as their stage. Sunlight filtering through leaves and the intimacy of people dancing together at parties at dusk create tangible moments of interaction, like sense memories brought to life. Perhaps Kechiche's only fault is the way the camera lingers in voyeuristic style -- sometimes veering into exploitative -- over Exarchopolous' body while she sleeps, focusing on her rear end each and every time. In other moments, the camera sweeps over legs and arms gracefully, the way we might look affectionately upon the skin of a loved one, startled that we never noticed that seemingly inconsequential part of his or her body is so perfect.

Of course, one can't discuss 'Blue Is the Warmest Color' without addressing the graphic sex sequences (one of which runs about 10 minutes straight). The sex in the film is obviously not simulated, and the comments made to the press by Seydoux and Exarchopolous indicate a near-horrifying experience on set. One can't begin to imagine the scenario in which these two women agreed to have sex with each other on camera, let alone for multiple takes. But scandal aside, and while it's commendable for the film to include scenes of two women having full-blown sex in a movie about lesbians -- because it's necessary, because it's honest, because it's a part of life between people in any relationship -- there's a certain hypocrisy to the way the scenes are shot. There are moments that feel more awkward and genuine, but it's still a show because the cameras are on two beautiful, naked women, and every movement and feeling is exaggerated. It's still a movie, and so the only thing separating it from pornography is that the actresses aren't surgically or cosmetically enhanced, and the music selection is more tasteful.

It's those sex scenes that may be detracting from the film's main story -- Adele's story. Like all young people becoming full-fledged adults, Adele is confused and torn. Her blue-collar family has instilled a certain work ethic, and she chooses a vocation that appeals to her sensibilities: teaching children. But it's just another springboard for her to find happiness within the life of someone else (or, in this case, lives). Whether it's with Emma, with her attractive male colleague, or the man she meets at a party, Adele constantly seeks fulfillment -- and at one point, blatantly declares it -- from other people. While the film refuses to be subtle with visual metaphor, Exarchopolous and Seydoux hungrily devour their scenes; they are articulate in ways both emotional and verbal, seemingly recreating, in detail, a sumptuous feast to share with an audience that could never possibly know how it tastes. But we get very close.

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'Blue Is the Warmest Color' is playing now in select theaters.

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