Director Abdellatif Kechiche presents a pretty good relationship movie with one moving and heartfelt performance, and another good performance. But at nearly 3 hours, it’s a hard sell and probably a bit self-indulgent.
And, oh yeah, there are about 20 minutes of extended lesbian sex scenes, earning the film an NC-17 rating.
The story is simple enough: it’s about the romantic coming-of-age of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos). In high school, her friends talk about boys and kissing. Adele makes a go at it, but her first date with a boy is uninspiring.
One of her female friends kisses her, which is inspiring, but when Adèle tries for a second kiss, it turns out to have been a heartbreaking misunderstanding. One of her friends, a gay boy, invites her to go clubbing to commiserate. He quickly becomes distracted, so Adèle wanders to the lesbian part of the club and strikes up a conversation with Emma (Léa Seydoux), whose blue hair she had noticed earlier out on the street.
They start a passionate relationship. There is some social pain as her friends accuse her of — and she denies — lesbian tendencies. But luckily high school doesn’t last forever, and Adèle and Emma continue their relationship through college and into work.
In the middle of the film, Emma, who had been studying art, begins a promising career. Adèle plans to become a teacher of young children. Some of the film’s best scenes are of Adèle trying keep up with the intellectual, artistic, and social progress that Emma is making. It’s an untenable situation and eventually their relationship falls apart. It hits Adèle worse than Emma. Off in the distant reaches of the third hour, there is a reunion of sorts at a coffee shop that might shape their relationship for the rest of their lives.
The performances are very good, particularly Exarchopoulos as the emotionally buffeted Adèle, who in spite of her smarts always seems to be one step behind. Not every scene works. A big fight feels overplayed, and the film does start to lose direction. But still, it’s not bad.
None of that matters, though, in comparison to the elephant in the room, namely those extended sex scenes that earn the film an NC-17 rating. Because I was watching the film with family, I found the scenes more uncomfortable than exciting. And while they were relevant to the character arc, they didn’t have to be as pornographic as they were to maintain that relevance.
But too much ink and too many pixels have already been spent on Kechiche’s social experiment in public sexuality, so I’ll leave it at that.