This film is getting plenty of hype. It was all the rage at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, winning best picture, director and a special award for the 2 lead actresses. Another reason it’s getting a lot of attention is due to the explicit sex scenes between the 2 women. Also, the film is getting some bad press since members of the cast/crew complained about the director’s behavior on the set. In fact, the 2 leads said they would never work with him again. However, I believe a movie speaks for itself. So is the movie any good? Let’s find out, shall we?
The story is through the eyes of a shy, but rather pretty high school girl named Adele. She begins dating a nice guy named Samir, but she feels that something is missing. During the night, she fantasizes about a girl with blue hair that she passed on the street one time. Well, one day she runs into her again at a night club. Her name is Emma, a tomboy-ish art student studying to be a painter, and the two quickly become friends. It isn’t long before they begin a very passionate and sexual love affair. I don’t want to get into detail about what happens with their relationship, but it spans over several years as they begin their honeymoon period, then eventually living together, and the problems that they face as a couple.
To call this the “lesbian sex movie” would not be fair. This is so much more than that. It’s about falling in love, sexual awakening, trusting your partner, and dealing with the consequences of mistakes that you make. This movie is effective because of the raw, natural approach by the filmmaker. Most of the dialogue sequences don’t seem scripted. It’s almost as if real people were being filmed. All of the interactions with the characters feel real. None of it feels phony or contrived. This is how real people talk to one another. And that’s why I think the film has some real power in its relationship between Adele and Emma.
The movie is about 3 hours, so it takes its time. Which works for the most part. The movie leisurely shows Adele going through her day as she goes to school and has typical High School gossip chatter with her classmates, eating dinner with her family, and sleeping. Some people might find this tedious, but by showing you Adele’s daily routine is important because of how different her life changes once she meets Emma. Once the two meet, it’s highly passionate from their first glance and on. Their conversations and the way they stare and one another is how real couples interact with one another.
And the sex scenes. Yes. They are extremely graphic. In fact, it looked like they were really doing things to one another. You can’t really fake licking a clit or putting fingers in a vagina. It looked pretty real to me. The big sex scene that everyone is talking about lasts about 6 minutes. But I never found any of this to be exploitive. Everyone has sex (or most people try anyways). It’s a common and natural thing. But in the movies, it’s taboo. I never understood that. And the sex that is in most movies is glamorized. Everything is perfect and accompanied by a music score. I rarely see sex in a movie that felt like that’s what it really IS like. Well, in this movie, the sex DID feel what it’s really like. The way they looked at one another, the way their lips smacked over each other, the way they got a little rough with one another…. well, I related to that. I HAVE had that kind of sex. For me, this made me feel their love and passion for each other more. I’m sure there will be immature giggles at certain screenings (there were at mine), and that’s too bad. Cause I felt that their sex scenes were truly beautiful and real.
The best thing this movie has going for it are the 2 lead performances. 19-year-old Adele Exarchopoulos plays Adele. It’s one of the most natural, genuine, intense, raw performances I have seen in quite some time. She’s nothing short of amazing. Adele completely captures the innocence and naivety of the character. And during moments of heartbreak, captures the absolute torture it is to be full of that much sorrow. My fellow critic Jesse Hoheisel complained about Adele’s crying scenes, how she had snot dripping from her nose and he was getting tired of that. But to me, that made perfect sense. I’ve been around people that cried so bad that snot was dripping from their nose, but they’re just too sad to care. THAT’S REAL LIFE FOLKS! Maybe we laugh at it in a movie because we’re not used to seeing something that real on the screen. But it does happen, and I appreciated that they didn’t “Hollywood” that type of thing up. Adele is fantastic, giving easily one of the best performances of the year. Lea Seydoux as Emma is almost as good. Her character is more experienced but just as emotionally vulnerable. She’s more of the tomboy and Seydoux goes through a complete transformation as an actress. Not only did she cut her hair short and dye it blue, but she also makes her mannerisms and stature very masculine. She definitely did her homework. The chemistry between them is the highlight of the film. They genuinely seemed in love with each other. These 2 should be nominated for Oscars this year.
Director Abdellatif Kechiche apparently shot several hundred hours of footage. It’s amazing that he got this whittled down to just 3 hours. I have a feeling that there was an 8 hour rough cut. Unfortunately, the film’s weak point is the length. It does deserve to be long, but maybe not 3 hours. I wouldn’t cut it down considerably, but maybe 10-15 minutes. This could have been 2 hours and 45 minutes I think without losing anything. The problem is that there are many scenes showing Adele do things, like teaching kids, going out to clubs, eating, sleeping. I wouldn’t cut any of these moments out completely, because they were necessary, but maybe cutting down those scenes by 30 seconds a piece would have made the pacing tighter. None of those scenes really had any endings so it wouldn’t have mattered if you DID end it 30 seconds sooner.
The filmmaking itself is very intimate. Mainly handheld cameras, but Kechiche employs extreme close-ups, which really helps you feel the intensity of the characters’ emotions and passion. It’s nothing extraordinary, as most foreign films these days use this approach. The story is something almost anyone can relate to, whether you’re homosexual or straight. Love and heartbreak are still the same, no matter who you are.
I do think there will be many filmgoers who will be bothered by the extreme length of the film. But if you prepare yourself for a long movie and allow it to immerse yourself into the lives of its characters, than you will be rewarded with a genuine and involving tale of erotic passion and the woes of heartbreak. It’s not a masterpiece like many are making it out to be. The film is a bit flabby in spots, and almost every scene could have been shortened by at least 10 seconds, but the 2 lead actresses bring an undeniable power to their characters making this a very honest, raw, intimate and genuine love story. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Check out Film Geek Central’s Jesse Hoheisel’s review here. He has a different take on the movie.
– Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content.
– Running time: 2hrs 59min.