review roundup

What the Critics Are Saying About Blue Is the Warmest Color’s Sex Scene

If you’ve heard anything about Blue Is the Warmest Color, you’ve probably heard about its lengthy lesbian sex scenes. The critics widely concur on the cinematic importance of such scenes, agreeing that they are not about audience titillation but are integral to the movie’s emotional power. So how to describe the act itself? In trying to persuade us that we aren’t watching porn, but high art, we find some of our critics dusting off flowery language they probably haven’t used since their undergraduate poetry seminars. Others are more evasive, trying to brush the sex off as old news or focusing on the controversy surrounding the scene instead. Here’s how critics are talking, or awkwardly avoiding talking, about the infamous sex scene.

“Ah, yes, oysters. They’re a motif in ­Kechiche’s most heavy-handed but ­amusing scenes. Adèle is grossed out by them. So Emma induces her (at dinner with Emma’s freewheeling gourmand parents) to eat one—quivering in its shell, alive as it slips down Adèle’s throat. We get it. And we’re well primed for the movie’s already-legendary set pieces, those extended (borderline hard-core) sex scenes with long takes and wide shots of the lovers as they kiss and suck and duck in and out of crevices and occasionally slap each other on their butts.” —David Edelstein, New York

“And so to bed. A strong feminist case could and will be made against ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color,’ alleging that its most naked aspect is Kechiche’s unblinking gaze. To be blunt, is he not getting off on these women, and arranging them to his own satisfaction? Maybe so, but, in reply, his fans will point to the force and the firepower of the lovers’ intent: a fusillade of cries and clutches, grabs and slaps—a pitch of pleasure so entwined with desperation that we find ourselves not in the realm of the pornographic but on the brink of romantic agony. How can it last? Emma is more worldly and less woundable, but Adèle, like any new recruit to a revolution, believes that it can and must endure. Thus, when the camera rises over the pair of them, locked and prostrated by the eager geometry of soixante-neuf, and floating on a bedsheet of oceanic blue, it is, if anything, a relief to see them as pure bodies, blissed out at full length, and no longer just as heads trapped in closeup and besieged with worries, words, and all the other short-term fripperies that keep us from the epic of love.” —Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

“But they don’t talk at all during the insistently unrefined carnal couplings that have earned the film notoriety and free publicity before it even opens Stateside. They moan and grunt and yelp — you know, like people do when they’re having sex. ” —Ella Taylor, the Wrap

“After a brief heterosexual relationship in which she loses her virginity, 15-year-old Adéle (Adéle Exarchopoulos) falls hard for chic art student Emma (Léa Seydoux), and the moment they get the chance to take their clothes off the passion explodes. In the cavalcade of kissing, licking, slapping and moaning that follows, Kechiche makes apparent the intensity of their physical bond, which later enhances the heartbreak caused by watching it fall apart.” —Eric Kohn, Indiewire

“Yet, the bedroom scenes are a far cry from softcore porn or art-house exploitation: what they show – amid various positions, moaning and exposed flesh (not to mention suggestive oyster slurping, in one playful sequence) — is that sex and love can, in the best cases, become one and the same, uniting two people who might actually have less in common than they believe.” —Jordan Mintzer, THR

“The scenes aren’t merely for titillation, but rather for a non-judgmental extension of the emotional bond formed between two people engaging in a fundamentally natural act on their own. Kechiche wisely equates the naked body with classical art, eventually filtered through Emma’s own art that uses Adèle as its muse. His focal point are each of the lovers’ lips, a reoccurring theme whether he uses a close-up of the characters eating dinner or whether locked in a moment of passion, but his infatuation points towards an interesting overall theme that the lips are the focus of not only their sexual identities but also nourishment and the linguistic center of human nature.” —Sean Hutchinson, Criterion Cast

“Blue Is the Warmest Color features long, graphic sex scenes that are crucial in establishing the all-consuming physical passion that is the foundation of the bond between Adèle and Emma (what U.S. distributors will do with all the full-frontal flesh, saliva, spanking, and panting is anybody’s guess). But though it instantly joins works like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain on the too-short list of great big-screen same-sex romances, the movie adds up to much more than a lesbian love story; by the time it reaches its quietly devastating, though hopeful, final shot, Kechiche’s film has become a map of the human soul.” -—Jon Frosch, The Atlantic

“Still, it’s scorching, NC-17-level stuff, if it gets rated at all; the individual scenes are sustained for minutes at a time and lensed from a multitude of angles, with enough wide shots to erase any suspicion of body doubles. Trying out almost every position imaginable and blurring the line between simulated and unsimulated acts, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are utterly fearless, conveying an almost feral hunger as their characters make love with increasing abandon. Audience titillation, though certainly there for the taking, couldn’t be more beside the point; each coupling signifies a deeper level of intimacy, laying an emotional foundation that pays off to shattering effect in the film’s third hour.” —Justin Chang, Variety

“The sex scenes themselves must surely be amongst the most graphic in the history of non-pornographic cinema, but because they are so completely unabashed, they are also entirely unembarrassing. We have all cringed while watching two Hollywood actors grunt and thrash away in a tangle of limbs and bedsheets, but Kechiche lights and stages these sequences with such frankness and clarity that they are, quite simply, a joy to watch.” —Robbie Collin, Telegraph

“And then there are the film’s much-ballyhooed sex scenes, which are shot with a surgical precision that’s provocative in the way that it seeks to key itself to the idea of love being genderless, a theory voiced to Adèle by an overzealous queen after she walks into her first gay club. Pornographic only in the most literal sense, these sequences aren’t expressions of a lurid male fantasy, but articulations of the characters’ intense sexual chemistry, and they convey, especially in a scene where Adèle and Emma madly lick and grab at each other inside a coffee shop some time after they break up, how the world and everyone who lives in it has a way of evaporating when lovers lock more than just eyes.” —Ed Gonzales, Slant

“But ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ is ardently and sincerely committed to capturing the fullness of Adèle’s experience — sensory, cerebral and emotional. The sex is essential to that intention, even though Mr. Kechiche’s way of filming does not quite succeed in fulfilling it. Trying to push the boundaries of empathy, to communicate physical rapture by visual means, he bumps into the limits of the medium and lapses into voyeurism, turning erotic sensation into a spectacle of flesh.” —A.O. Scott, New York Times

“As for the sex scenes, they’re as insanely erotic as advertised; it’s not just their frankness and duration that counts, but their emotional intensity too. While many movies make sex look either sleazy or pantomimed, here’s one that depicts it honestly—as a messy, sometimes ungraceful act of connection. For some, it may be impossible to separate these prolonged simulations, which were surely no picnic to film, from the allegations of unprofessionalism the actresses have leveled against Kechiche. But only a hopeless prude could confuse any of it for pornography. There’s too much raw emotion, too much fierceness and beauty, in the way Exarchopoulos and Seydoux embrace.” —A.A Dowd, A.V. Club

“Now, it’s perfectly true that French films contain more casual nudity and unadorned sexuality than their American counterparts; it’s a point of national pride. But even by French standards, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is pretty doggone racy. There are several extended scenes of Emma and Adèle going at it in athletic and indeed gymnastic fashion that leave nothing to the imagination, and that blur any possible boundaries between simulated movie-sex and the real thing.” —Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

“Adèle and Emma consummate their relationship via a vigorous, 10-minute lovemaking session that has completely dominated discussion of the film since it won the Palme D’Or last May. How people view this one sequence tends to color how they feel about the film overall, and not unfairly: Those who attack it as pornographic and heteronormative are likely to see the further adventures of Adèle and Emma as a prime example of the way movies are filtered through the male gaze. Those struck by its audacity are more willing to accept it as of a piece with Kechiche’s outsized vision of love, which is awash in a sensuality he doesn’t care to temper with discretion.” —Scott Tobias, the Dissolve

“Still, there are inherent difficulties for this much-praised film. The sex scenes are graphic, extensive and earned ‘Blue’ an NC-17 rating. The affair is between women, but ‘Blue’ does not play like an exploitation movie about lesbians in love. It’s an intriguing and intimate look at two people at their most elemental and vulnerable.” —Betsy Sharkey, L.A. Times

“Instead of wondering why there is so much whoopee in Blue Is the Warmest Color — and it’s actually not that much: about nine minutes in the nearly three-hour film — one might ask why there is so little in most other movies.” —Richard Corliss, TIME

“The sex scenes constitute maybe eight minutes of the film, and they’re extraordinary, free of the varnished, composed feeling of so much movie sex. Yet, as striking as they are, they’re hardly the movie’s major feature. ” —Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice

“Honestly, I think it’s embarrassing that so much time has been spent on this sex scene … ” —Jonathan Kim, Huffington Post

Critics on Blue Is the Warmest Color’s Sex Scene