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TELLURIDE, Colo. – Abdellatif Kechiche‘s Blue Is the Warmest Color — a 187-minute lesbian love story based on the 2010 French graphic novel Blue Angel and known in France as La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 — had its North American premiere here on Thursday evening at the Galaxy Theatre. But due to the late hour and a number of competing events, the 2013 Cannes Palme d’Or winner‘s big unveiling came on Friday afternoon, when it screened for a packed house at the new Werner Herzog Theatre, where it met with considerable applause.
Blue Is the Warmest Color is not unlike Ang Lee‘s widely-celebrated Brokeback Mountain (2005), except that the forbidden love story at its center involves two young women — played by 19-year-old Adèle Exarchlopoulos and 28-year-old Lea Seydoux — instead of two young men. They must keep their romance a secret from most and are forced to suffer silently when it sours.
Sundance Selects, which acquired the film after Cannes, will release it in the U.S. on Oct. 25, right in the heart of the awards season. Its French distributor, Wild Bunch Pictures, has also decided that it is in the best interests of the film to wait until October to release it in France — a decision that could have massive and negative implications for its Oscar prospects. That is because the Academy’s rules, which are followed by the French Ministry of Culture agency that determines France’s submission for the best foreign language film Oscar, mandate that a film must be released in its home country, in this case France, before Sept. 30 in order to be eligible.
I caught up today with Jonathan Sehring, the president of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, who told me that he plans to forge ahead with an Oscar campaign anyway, since he believes that the film has the potential to contend in categories other than best foreign language film. “We still believe that it can be a strong contender in the best actress and best supporting actress races,” he told me, citing the out-of-this-world performances by its beautiful Parisian stars Exarchopoulos and Seydoux. Indeed, the duo make such a strong impression that the Steven Spielberg-led Cannes Jury took the unprecedented step of awarding the Palme not only to a film’s director but also to its two stars.
But the film faces another challenge within the Academy’s acting branch, which determines the nominees for acting Oscars: with several graphic and extended sex scenes unlike any that I have ever seen in a movie theater — suffice it to say, there was no faking them — it may be a bit too risque for the branch’s conservative-leaning tastes. No film rated NC-17 by the MPAA has ever received an Oscar nomination in a major category (although Midnight Cowboy, which is relatively tame by today’s standards, won before that designation was created and it was labeled X).
Sundance Selects will have to hope that the Academy — which has undertaken great efforts, of late, to invite younger members of the film community to become members — is more open-minded today than it has been in the past. It’s quite possible that it is. Though it denied Michael Fassbender a best actor nom for his critically-hailed performance in Shame (2011), which was rated NC-17, it has, in recent years, awarded best actress noms to several performers from films that were initially rated NC-17 before they were either released without a rating or re-rated R following an appeal: Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Ellen Burstyn for Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine (2010).
Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottFeinberg for additional news and analysis.
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