For all the lovely limbs intertwined, the top prize at Cannes, and the very public sniping among its director and lead actresses, "Blue Is the Warmest Color" is, in fact, one of those revelatory movies that must be seen, partly because all you're going to hear about this season is Adèle Exarchopoulos. She gives the kind of glorious, starburst performance that happens every few years and lights up the landscape. For all the hubbub about its same-sex bed scenes and lesbian combustion, "Blue" hardly exploits its subject matter. Quite the opposite: The disintegrating love affair at its center suffers because its lovers fall into almost comically predictable, hetero patterns (one doing the dishes while the other reads in bed, just for instance).
But getting them there involves considerable heat and sweat, director Abdellatif Kechiche choreographing extremely graphic and intimate couplings that have dominated discussions around the film. But "Blue" is far more importantly a movie of faces, notably that of Exarchopoulos, who is not only exceptionally beautiful but expressive to a degree seldom seen in an actress so young and relatively inexperienced; she carries much of the movie via a kind of wordless interior monologue she creates with her eyes and mouth.
Adèle (Exarchopoulos) meets Emma (Léa Seydoux) while still in high school, her wide-open, searching look in high contrast to Emma's catlike eyes and knowing smile; Emma knows that Adèle is trying to figure things out; she's been there. Kechiche orchestrates the girl's measured progress into an erotic crescendo.
What's the big deal, at this point, about a lesbian love story? Not much, except, perhaps, that it adopts such pedestrian patterns. Cheating. Jealousy. Neglect. Outrage. Wounds that won't heal. The more wondrous things about "Blue Is the Warmest Color" include its emotional honesty, precision, abandon and need. It seems harder to feel real things at the movies these days, but Kechiche, Exarchopopulos and Seydoux insist that you respond. It seems unthinkable that you wouldn't.
PLOT A young woman finds her sexual bearings, and her obsession, with a slightly older, cannier artist.
RATING NC-17 (explicit sex scenes)
CAST Léa Seydoux, Adéle Exarchopoulos
BOTTOM LINE Emotionally immersive, with extraordinary -- and extraordinarily intimate -- performances.