When this French film garnered its big prize(s) at Cannes last May, I couldn’t help wondering what all the fuss was about. Was the story about a young woman’s awakening of her sexuality an exploitation by her male director? Were the long, graphic sex scenes between the two women a male fantasy of lesbian lovemaking? Were the actresses forced to perform acts they found abusive? Was the movie’s three-hour running time really necessary? Was the film a true contemporary masterpiece about falling in love?
I can’t speak for the actresses or their director, but now that I’ve seen their work I’m firmly in the “masterpiece” camp. I thought the film was a major achievement.
Adele is a high school girl who lives with her parents in a rather ordinary middle class house. She has no expectations other than to finish school and be a nursery school teacher. She surprises her friends when she doesn’t reciprocate the affections of a cute boy at school. It isn’t until she meets and falls in love at first sight with the blue-haired artist Lea, an older woman of culture and experience, that she plunges into an affair of body and soul. With each exposure to Lea, Adele finds herself happy for the first time, even as she can sense she’s never going to fit in with Lea’s more sophisticated social circle. Suffice it to say, complications to the relationship ensue.
Much has been made of the graphic sex scenes, but I honestly don’t know how you’d make this film without them. They’re such an integral part of Adele’s coming of age. And every scene – not just the lovemaking but literally every scene in the movie – feels authentic. It almost seemed as if I were spying on real people.
However the director managed to extract such great performances out of the two young women is beyond me, but they both deserve recognition at Oscar time.