Blue is the Warmest Colour, the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or prize at Cannes, will be released to U.S. theaters with an NC-17 rating, its exhibitor announced today. As far as we can tell, it will be the first comic book/graphic novel adaptation to be released with the rating.
The rating is a mixed bag; on the one hand, it means that Sundance Selects will release the film without cuts to the controversial adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Le Bleu est un couleur chaude, a lesbian romance that screened at Cannes with what’s been described as very graphic depictions of lesbian sex. That should please the filmmakers and cinema purists, who tend to criticize the temptation to edit art movies down to an R.
On the other hand, not making cuts means that the film’s box office potential–and more importantly its opportunity to expand beyond a very small release aimed at hardcore cinemaphiles–is very limited.
“This is a landmark film with two of the best female performances we have ever seen on screen,” Sundance Selects/IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring said. “The film is first and foremost a film about love, coming of age and passion. We refuse to compromise Kechiche’s vision by trimming the film for an R rating.”
He added that NC-17 no longer holds the sigma that it once did–after all, there have been films with an NC-17 rating that have performed reasonably well at the box office and better critically, and before an NC-17 was created Midnight Cowboy was the first X-rated film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (it would have been an NC-17 if such a rating existed at the time of its release). Still, most mainstream theater chains will not exhibit an NC-17 film.
At the time of its Cannes win, there was already discussion about how it would get released in the U.S., with the entertainment press speculating that it would undergo changes to qualify for an R-rating.
“For me the film is a great love story, and the fact that it is a great love story that made all of us feel that we were privileged, not embarrassed, to be flies on the wall invited to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning,” Cannes jury president Steven Spielberg said at the time. “We were absolutely spellbound by the brilliance of the performances of those two amazing young actresses and all the cast, and especially the way the director observed his players. We just all thought it was a profound love story.”
This is not the first bump int he road for Abdellatif Kechiche’s film since it won the top prize at Cannes in May. It was also ruled ineligible for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination because its October 9 release date is just over a week too late to qualify.
Julie Maroh, whose graphic novel was being adapted, also criticized the sex scenes in the film, saying that the film was shot from a very male point of view.
“It appears to me this was what was missing on the set: lesbians,” Maroh wrote. “I don’t know the sources of information for the director and the actresses (who are all straight, unless proven otherwise) and I was never consulted upstream. Maybe there was someone there to awkwardly imitate the possible positions with their hands, and/or to show them some porn of so-called ‘lesbians’ (unfortunately it’s hardly ever actually for a lesbian audience). Because — except for a few passages — this is all that it brings to my mind: a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn, and me feel very ill at ease. Especially when, in the middle of a movie theater, everyone was giggling. The heteronormative laughed because they don’t understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it’s not convincing, and found it ridiculous. And among the only people we didn’t hear giggling were the potential guys too busy feasting their eyes on an incarnation of their fantasies on screen.”
The film, which stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, will open October 25 in the U.S.