In one corner, the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who takes on the less popular notion that there was something predatory in the camera work of Blue is the Warmest Color. The director was a little too obsessed with the 19 year-old beauty who pleasures herself, then explodes sexually with another woman. The film is three hours long, however, and the sex, though it is the most talked about part of the film, is only a small portion of it (intense, explicit, graphic, etc). Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere believed that this opinion might have given the jury pause rewarding this film, which blew through the festival like a hurricane, and probably the only one called a “masterpiece” by critics. Many even believed that Steven Spielberg (who directed the Color Purple, for goddsakes) would not have the maturity or sensibility to allow the Palme d’or to be given to this film. Boy, were they wrong. Dargis writes: In this scene, as throughout, Mr. Kechiche and his hand-held camera keep close tabs on Adèle. This intimacy is clearly meant to draw you into her consciousness. Yet, as the camera hovers over her open mouth and splayed body, even while she sleeps with her derrière prettily framed, the movie feels far more about Mr. Kechiche’s desires than anything else. It’s disappointing that Mr. Kechiche, whose movies include “The Secret of the Grain” and “Black Venus” (another voyeuristic exercise), seems so unaware or maybe just uninterested in the tough questions about the representation of the female body that feminists have engaged for decades. However sympathetic are the characters and Ms. Exarchopoulos, who produces prodigious amounts of tears and phlegm along with some poignant moments, Mr. Kechiche registers as oblivious to real women. He’s as bad as the male character who prattles on about “mystical” female orgasms and art without evident awareness of the barriers female artists faced or why those barriers might help explain the kind of art, including centuries of writhing female nudes, that was produced. “Men look at women,” the art critic John Berger observed in 1972. “Women watch themselves being looked at.” Plus ça change…. Meanwhile, another prominent female critic, Stephanie Zacharek, seems to take Manohla Dargis on with her review, which specifically addresses Dargis’ complaint: The love scenes between these two characters are beautifully staged, perhaps among the loveliest ever put on film. Sex scenes, as any director will tell you, are a nightmare to shoot: It’s extremely difficult to make good sex look good–a combination of stylized artifice and sensitivity is needed, and the perfect mix is elusive. But Kechiche (director of the 2007 critics’ favorite Secret of the Grain, as well as the much less loved 2010 Black Venus) and his actresses achieve something extraordinary: The sex scenes in Blue Is the Warmest Color are classical without being sterile; they’re real and immediate in a way that honors the idea of terrific sex between two people who are madly in love, instead of just trying to paste a clumsy picture of it onscreen. The picture has already drawn some criticism: There are those who believe Blue Is the Warmest Color is just an excuse for an old guy to use his camera to paw at young women’s bodies, and, accordingly, the male critics who like it simply cannot resist the allure of two hot young things in bed. Thank you, Theory of the Male Gaze, for giving us such a handy template with which to diagram the mysteries of beauty, sex, and desire! Yet even if these sex scenes are integral to Blue Is the Warmest Color, they’re still only part of a complex whole. Kechiche and his actresses address tangled class issues, explore questions of how young people struggle to find their way in the world, and–it’s better if you know– map the contours of a romance that ends in delicate, devastating heartbreak. Seydoux, beguiling as always, is terrific as the flirtatious and self-assured Emma. But it’s Exarchopoulos, with her unmanageably lank hair and cautious smile, who sneaks off with the movie. Her Adèle is a living, breathing reminder of the romantic suffering of youth, but she’s not just about youth. Blue Is the Warmest Color is for anyone who ever fell in love only to be kicked right out of it, into a state that feels like drowning but is, in reality, just a kind of bewildered breathing. When the choice is sink or swim, most of us choose to swim. Sometimes, somehow, the movies are at one with the sea. Dargis wasn’t the only one who felt a tad uncomfortable with the extended indulgent love scene, as discussed in this Film Comment roundtable. But by and large, theirs was the less popular opinion. The more overwhelming opinion in Cannes was that the film was true to its characters and told a story worth telling. It is easy to write it off as being interesting only to straight males who are always interested in delving into the sexuality of teenage girls. That’s a no-brainer. But there is something to be said about the human experience overall, the repression of sexuality in most Hollywood movies now, and what is, really, a vital — or maybe one of the most vital – elements of our human experience. I am forced to sit on the sidelines and use my imagination as I have not yet seen the film. I find that my own uninformed opinion varies wildly on the subject. I go from intrigued, to appreciative, to creeped out, to protective, to annoyed…it brings up a lot of issues. This year’s Cannes fest had one too many films about a young girl’s budding sexuality dressed up to be from her point of view but being, in the end, a film about a male viewer’s point of view. This was true about Jeune et Jolie (about a teenage prostitute who falls in love with one of her clients), The Great Beauty, and Blue is the Warmest Color. Not explored as much was adult female sexuality. There is a little of it in two films directed by women – Claire Denis’ Bastards and A Castle in Italy. Neither film was embraced, particularly, and certainly didn’t win any awards. No, it was all about the very young women and their sexually exposed bodies. Good, bad, who’s to say. That’s for you all to decide. It is an interesting film overall, one that is leading to passionate discussions about film, sex, women, Hollywood…I suspect when I finally do see this film that I will agree with both Stephanie Zacharek and Manohla Dargis. What I hope comes of it is a freeing up of attitudes that allows for more freedom where sexuality is concerned. I hope it doesn’t always have to be focused on the very young, however. And I also hope more women storytellers get the same kind of acclaim when they delve into similar stories.