Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is in high school when she meets art student Emma (Léa Seydoux) and falls in love immediately, despite never really suspecting before that she might like women. And Emma, even though she has a girlfriend, really likes Adèle, too. Emma is comfortable and very out, as opposed to Adèle, but opposites obviously attract and the chemistry between the two of them is quite explosive.
Here’s what I took away from this movie: 1) lesbians have sex too (surprise, surprise). 2) 3 hours is really, really long. 3) there are many different ways you can look wistfully into a camera. In other words I didn’t care much for this movie.
What I heard in advance about the film was that the sex scenes were really explicit and that it was finally an epic, passionate love story for lesbians. And while the first thing is certainly true, it’s not necessarily such a good thing. I mean, I don’t mind sex scenes. And I don’t mind porn. And if your actors are fine with shooting porn in a not-porn film, well, knock yourself out. But having those scenes go on forever, without any plot relevance? Shooting a love story with two women that is purely through the male gaze, especially in the sex scenes? It looks like your run of the mill lesbian porn for dudes and is alternately boring and really annoying. But mostly boring.
As for the epic, passionate love story for lesbians. Well it’s certainly passionate. And it’s epic, at least in length. But as for the lesbian part – Adèle keeps sleeping with men. There are hints, towards the end, that maybe her next big romance will be with a guy. And while I don’t think that applying labels to everything is necessary, it makes the “lesbian” part a little inappropriate. Especially since bisexuality et al. are generally underrepresented and washed over anyway. And it could have been at least a topic in the movie at one point. Just a little insight from Adèle that maybe she likes all kinds of people, something. Instead it just makes the entire thing feel like nobody ever thought about any of this.
But even apart from the sex and sexual orientation stuff, there were some serious weaknesses to the script. People appear out of nowhere and disappear into nowhere again. Adèle’s parents meet Emma, thinking that she’s Adèle’s tutor and that’s the last time we see or hear about them. Adèle’s friends in school attack her ferociously when they suspect her to be gay, only to never be seen again. And it drove me absolutely insane that I never knew how much time had passed. Had they been dating for 3 months or 3 years? Is Adèle 18 or 24 now? Plus, the whole thing is just so freaking looooong.
There are good things to it. Both Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos are excellent actresses and manage to wrangle every single bit of emotion from their roles (that Adèle mostly gets to look sad is another issue). And there were a couple of scenes that worked really well. But it doesn’t make up for the rest of the fuckery.