Please accept my apologies, but I gave up on “Blue Is The Warmest Color” (2013) at the ten-minute mark. This is no way a reflection on the movie’s quality, but my own reaction to director Abdellatif Kechiche’s stylistic choices. The combination of a wide-screen frame plus a heavy reliance on extreme close-ups all shot with shaky cam rendered it literally unwatchable for me. I seem to be getting more sensitive to certain visual schemes; the off-center compositions and constant focal shifts of “Mother of George” (2013) forced me to wave the white flag after about twenty minutes as well. Consider what follows an “informational review” for those who want to know about this new Criterion release.

“Blue Is The Warmest Color” made waves when it took down the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 with the Palme d’Or being awarded to Kechiche as well as to lead actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Early reviews dubbed the film “controversial” for a graphic sex scene between the two leads that was reported by various observers as anywhere from seven to twenty minutes long. Artist Julie Maroh, whose graphic novel of the same name was the basis (the credit reads “Freely Adapted From”) for the movie, also expressed her concerns about the sexual depiction: “As a feminist and lesbian spectator, I cannot endorse the direction Kechiche took on these matters.”

As more audiences got to see the film, the conversation soon centered on the widely-praised performances of both leads, especially 19 year-old Exarchopoulos who plays the slightly younger Adèle, a high-school student who meets and falls in love with Emma (Seydoux), a twenty-something art student. The film traces the arc of their relationship from its first sparks through a year or more together to its inevitable dissolution. The movie’s considerable length (179 minutes) has also frequently been mentioned, but has clearly not been a stumbling block for either audiences or critics. “Blue” finished near the top of many “Best Of” polls for 2013 and currently sports a 90% “fresh” rating on the Tomato Meter.

For an insightful discussion of the movie, I point you to this essay by B. Ruby Rich, which is also included in the insert booklet with thisCriterion Blu-ray.

The movie is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Though I had great difficulty with the visual design, this has nothing to do with the quality of the 1080p transfer which is flawless; “Blue” was shot in high-def so the high-def transfer was pretty straightforward. From the Criterion booklet: “The film was shot with a Canon C300 digital camera, and the entire production was completed in a fully digital workflow. The final color-corrected DPX files were output to Rec. 709 high-definition color space for Blu-ray and DVD release. The master was approved by Abdellatif Kechiche.” It looks fantastic from the ten minutes I watched and the other brief portions I sampled.

In a departure for recent Criterion titles, this is NOT a dual-format release so you only get the Blu-ray (DVD only option is also available).

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is, as expected, crisp and rich. I didn’t listen long enough to get much of a sense for the music but the dialogue and ambient sounds are clear as could be. Optional English subtitles support the French audio.

In a rare move, Criterion has released something very close to a bare-bones disc. All we get is a Trailer (1 min.) and a very brief TV spot (18 sec.)

The slim fold-out booklet features an essay by critic B. Ruby Rich.

Please note the following announcement listed on Criterion’s website: “A full special edition treatment of this film will follow at a later date.” So factor that into your decision to purchase.

Movie Value:
The shaky cam close-ups weren’t for me, but “Blue Is The Warmest Color” wowed audiences and the jury at Cannes and has won widespread critical acclaim. Criterion’s Spartan release offers nothing in the way of extras, but you do get an immaculate 1080p transfer. The company promises “a full special edition” in the future, but with no listed date.

As noted above, I didn’t watch the movie thus the absence of a Film Rating below.