Blue Is the Warmest Color, Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour, Palme d’Or-winning drama about a relationship between two young women (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux), will be released with an NC-17 rating in the United States. Sundance Selects, who is distributing the film, has chosen not to appeal the decision; said Jonathan Sehring, the Sundance Selects/IFC Films president, “An NC-17 rating no longer holds the stigma it once did, and we look forward to bringing this unforgettable film to audiences nationwide. We believe this film will leave a lasting imprint as the Last Tango in Paris for a whole new generation.”
This decision puts Blue Is the Warmest Color in the recent company of Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film, William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, and Steve McQueen’s Shame, all three of which were smacked with the NC-17 label. Certainly comparisons to McQueen’s film will be interesting, as Fox Searchlight at the time was notably confident in the film’s ability to connect with and reach audiences despite the controversial rating. Tellingly, however, Shame didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination, and it will be compelling to see how the Academy responds to Kechiche’s film, which is said to boast a pair of earth-shattering performances; Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, after all, shared the Palme d’Or with Kechiche (a first in the history of the Cannes Film Festival, thanks to Steven Spielberg’s jury).
Sehring and Sundance Selects had a few different potential options in responding to the MPAA ruling. They could have followed the path of Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and released the film unrated. They also could have taken a page out of Harvey Weinstein’s book and appealed the rating, as The Weinstein Company did successfully with Blue Valentine, which was ultimately released with an R-rating. But the company refused to compromise; in Sehring’s words, “This is a landmark film with two of the best female performances we have ever seen on screen. 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, and we have every confidence that Blue Is the Warmest Color will play in theaters around the country regardless.”
Over in France, the French Ministry of Culture gave the film a “12” rating, meaning that they feel the film is appropriate for anyone over 12 years of age. This would be a humorous detail if it didn’t further reveal the ignorance and misjudgment that continues to plague the MPAA, which is notoriously forgiving with violence and bloodshed and exactly the opposite with on-screen sensuality. I can’t say I’m optimistic, but it would be a year-making treat if Blue Is the Warmest Color, in the vein of Sehring’s pledge, somehow threatened the $36 million domestic gross Last Tango in Paris achieved back in 1973. If you missed the trailer, check it out with user-supplied English subtitles below.
Blue Is the Warmest Color will hit U.S. theaters on October 25th after screening at the New York and Toronto film festivals.