It's rare for a movie to make it to theaters with an honest-to-God NC-17 rating, and even rarer for that movie to be a legitimate awards season contender, a critically acclaimed drama, and a major success from one of the more prestigious film festivals in the world. So if it's clearly got artistic value despite its bawdy rating, should it be made available to as many people as possible? That's the logic at New York City's IFC Center, where they will be screening the French drama Blue is the Warmest Color this weekend, and opening it up to anyone of high school age or older.
That's blatantly breaking the MPAA regulation that an NC-17 rating means nobody under the age of 17 is allowed into the film, but in a statement made to The New York Times, the theaters senior vice president and general manager John Vanco didn't seem to care:
This is not a movie for young children, but it is our judgment that it is not inappropriate for mature, inquiring teenagers who are looking ahead to the emotional challenges and opportunities that adulthood holds.
As you may have read in our review, Blue is the Warmest Color is a coming of age story about a high school student named Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) who falls hard for a college student named Emma (Lea Seydoux); the film follows both their years-long relationship and Adele's development into adulthood, with as much attention paid to Adele's burgeoning career as a teacher to extremely intimate, extremely graphic sex scenes between the two women. The sex certainly earned the film plenty of attention when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier in May, but it also earned the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or. For the first time in history the award was given not only to the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, but the two lead actresses. Both actresses are longshot hopes to win further awards this season, but as you might guess, a three-hour sexually explicit drama sells a touch better in France than it does with stodgy American awards voters.
But will it sell with teenagers too? Surprisingly, one of the most vocal fighters for the right of teens to see Blue is the parent of a teenager himself, the Times film critic A.O. Scott. He has taken his 14-year-old daughter to see the film twice, and here's what he says about its value for viewers who ought to relate to the film's confused young heroine:
It’s a movie about a high school student, after all, confronting issues — peer pressure, first love, homework, postgraduate plans — that will be familiar to adolescents and perhaps more exotic to the middle-aged. In spite of linguistic and cultural differences, the main character, moody, self-absorbed and curious, will remind many American girls of themselves, their friends and the heroines of the young adult novels they devour. The content of the film is really no racier that what is found in those books, but our superstition about images designates it as adults-only viewing.
And, as Scott points out, the film's rating in France means it's accessible to any audiences over the age of 12. You might think that's a bridge too far-- most 12 year olds aren't having sex, after all-- but why not check it out for yourself to find out? If you're a teenager in the New York area you can see it this weekend at the IFC Center, and adults of any age can find it in additional theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, and expanding elsewhere after that.