Earlier this week a few L.A.-based Hollywood columnists were politely disinvited from attending last night’s screening of Abdellatif Kechiche‘s Blue Is The Warmest Color (IFC Films/Sundance Selects, 10.25), the must-see lesbian romantic drama that won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or last May. All publicists and marketers want online conversations to be sparked by the heat and excitement of Telluride or Toronto, but if I were running Sundance Selects I would let these guys see Blue before things begin on 8.28, and not just because it’s difficult to wedge a three-hour film into a compressed Toronto screening schedule. It’s vitally important to see Blue now, I feel, because of Adele Exarchopoulos‘s incandescent, unstoppable lead performance as the teenaged lover of supporting costar Lea Seydoux. Because AE will absolutely be one of the five Best Actress Oscar contenders this year. We’re talking an almost-done deal — really.
I’m not just talking about what is easily 2013’s most penetrating, open-pored performance by a dramatic actress so far — of that there is no question. I’m talking about a performance that is the stuff of instant legend — firmly and classically among the greatest performances by Jeanne Moreau, Monica Vitti, Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Huppert. Simone Signoret, Isabelle Adjani, Audrey Tatou, etc. You can read each and every uncertain, trembling emotion pulsing through her from start to finish. Not a single thought or blip or current is hidden.
After seeing Blue in Cannes I had it in my mind that 60% of the emotional current was generated by Exarchopoulos and 40% by Seydoux, but now I’m thinking it’s more of 70-30 or even a 75-25 split. Why didn’t I start hopping up and down about AE after seeing Blue in Cannes last May? Because (a) I decided to wait until just before the start of awards season because people don’t listen to Oscar talk in the middle of the summer and (b) because I wanted to take in her performance a second time to see if it holds up. Guess what? After a second viewing it seems even stronger.
I couldn’t contain myself last night. I was calling friends and telling them about the liquid snot falling out of Exarchopoulos’ nose in one third-act scene, and how this would usually gross me out but not this time.
Blue Is The Warmest Color is entirely about this naive but intensely alive character (named Adele because Kechiche “wanted to keep the name of my actress,” it says in the press notes…”it helped her merge with her character, and I with her”) and especially about her moist-eyed youth and au natural radiance (yes, the performance will impress older Academy males for the usual hot-babe factor that Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil points to almost every year) and her almost-plump features and dark eyes and nut-brown hair which is always flopping and untangling and falling all over her face, and…I’m sorry to put it this way…her magnificent cantaloupe ass and the way her mouth is half-open when she’s sleeping and especially the way she eats pasta and Bolognese sauce, which happens at least three times in the film, as well as oysters. Oysters!
Kechiche obviously fell in love with Exarchopoulos during filming and put every last emotional, sensual and spiritual feeling between them on the screen (which is what the feminists and the lesbians resent because it’s not their realm but Kechiche’s), but anyone who says Blue is mainly about Kechiche’s dick is really blind. This is a movie about love and vulnerability and ecstasy and agony and despair…it’s the whole magilla conveyed through a girl-on-girl relationship but it’s the same thing that has kept hearts beating and breaking for centuries.
So let’s leave the sensual impressions aside and repeat once again that what Exarchopolous is doing here is historic and close to earth-shaking because of what she’s giving from within. And remember that she’s only 19 now — she turns 20 in November.
It’s such an amazing role and such a terrific performance that it’s almost tragic to consider the possibility that Exarchopolous (who signed last month with CAA) will never land another role as well-written or give another performance that so rings the bell.
Despite all this there are two roadblocks to landing a Best Actress nomination. One is that people are going to have a hard time pronouncing her five-syllable last name, but I got past this and you can too. Roughly 75% of Greek last names end in “opoulos” so all we’re talking about here is adding a “ch” — chopoulos. After that you just have to add an “Exar,” or Pixar without the “p” — Exarchopoulos. Would she be having an easier time of it if she’d changed her name to Adele Malraux? Yes. Are we adults who can deal with exotic names and figure this shit out if we want to? Yes.
The other possible roadblock is that IFC Films/Sundance Selects may not have the scratch to fund a balls-out Best Actress campaign a la Marion Cotillard‘s campaign for La Vie En Rose. So it will probably come down to critics and bloggers keeping the fires going and perhaps a critics group or two giving their Best Actress award to Exarchopoulos…maybe. December is a long time off. I only know that a serious campaign for Best Actress costs a pile of dough. I don’t think that France’s unfortunate decision to not officially submit Blue Is The Warmest Color for Best Foreign-Language Feature (along with the reluctance of the Academy to change its rules about foreign film qualification, which Deadline‘s Pete Hammond explained last month) will hurt Exarchopoulos all that much.