At home in Paris, Léa Seydoux has long been known as the striking daughter of a prominent society family with interests in business, media, sport and entertainment. In her early twenties, she was famous as a model, a trendsetter and the occasional star of French and American movies.
She had a small part in Inglourious Basterds, she was in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. This month, she has a cameo in the new Wes Anderson movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel. In the gallery of unfeasibly beautiful French actresses, she is the latest exhibit: the new Deneuve, the updated Adjani.
But we’ve been there before, and none of that brought her much attention outside France or made a huge impression on us at Esquire, until Blue is the Warmest Colour, the film that won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and provoked a considerable success de scandale in the conservatoire of arthouse cinema. Why? In a word: lesbians. Two words: French lesbians. Three words: hot French lesbians. (I could go on, but I’m letting you down, I’m letting the magazine down, and I’m letting myself down.)
When I went to see Blue is the Warmest Colour last year, my girlfriend, fearing the worst, made a loose arrangement to text her friend Gemma so she would have something to distract her during the section of the film that she worried might be “potentially awks”.
As luck would have it, there was no reception in screen six at Cineworld Fulham Road, so the longest of the three long sex scenes – seven bum-slapping minutes, so I’m told – had to be confronted without recourse to blush-sparing iPhone immersion. We sat there silently, like everyone else in the auditorium, as if it were perfectly normal to watch with strangers while two young French actresses (hot ones, as I may already have said) licked each other from nose to toes, stopping off at various points of particular interest in between.
Both women, the relatively experienced Seydoux and the newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos, initially basked in the warm glow of kudos on the Croisette – in an unprecedented move they shared the Palme d’Or with their director – but later spoke out against their treatment during the making of the film, specifically during the making of the hot lesbian bits.
The director, Abdellatif Kechiche, incensed by this apparent disloyalty, railed against actors in general, and even suggested the film should not be released, since it had been sullied by controversy. (High-five that man if you see him in the street.) Many, mostly male, critics loved it; a few, mostly female, observers took issue with the mere fact of a middle-aged heterosexual director positioning his camera quite so close to nubile female flesh.
Blue is the Warmest Colour, which is now available to be viewed in the comfort of your own boudoir (no need to text Gemma!), is about a teenager called Adèle, played by Exarchopoulos, who falls for an older, wiser twentysomething artist, Emma, played by Seydoux as a sultry wrecking ball with the most fetching blue rinse hair since Marge Simpson was a gal.
In truth, their sex scenes are hardly explicit compared to what is widely available on the internet. What they are – and why they may be troubling to some viewers – is intimate, exceptionally so. But then the whole film is intimate. It is an intimate study of intimacy, a close-up depiction of the pleasure and pain of first love. Kechiche’s camera holds tight to Exarchopoulos and Seydoux’s faces for what feels like hours, and not a moment wasted.
Blue is the Warmest Colour is out on DVD and Blu-ray now. Taken from Esquire's April issue, on newsstands now.