A completely deserving winner of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, this is almost impossible to pigeonhole, such is the breadth of subject matter it traverses. On the surface, it’s a coming-of-age drama about a young lesbian relationship, but it’s also an examination of the nature of friendship, the importance of setting down boundaries, the search for one’s sense of self and identity, the inevitability of life’s disillusionment and more. To take something as straightforward as this seems to be, and use it to demonstrate so many intense truths about being young and getting older, is a remarkable achievement. In three hours, you pretty much see a young girl become a young woman, but believably so.

The two lead performances are the kind where you just stop and think about how utterly silly the more mannered, showing-off screen “performances” are. Both women are astonishingly naturalistic and believable – they just don’t seem like they’re acting at all. It feels more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary (helped by the way it’s often shot like one) at times. There have been reports that the director pushed his cast to unacceptable extremes to achieve this level of believability, but despite that you can’t help but be completely sucked in to the tangible, totally real lives they both convey. I still find myself thinking about Adele, and wondering how she’s doing, such is the level of truth that gets mined here.

Much has been made of the explicit sex scenes, and it feels like a disservice to the film to dwell too much on them, but the response to them has been interesting. There has been some dissent as to how exploitative they might be, and suggestions that they’re not realistic representations of lesbian sex, all of which should absolutely be discussed. But I personally felt that however jarringly stylised or OTT they might appear, they seemed to me to be an attempt by two young people to clumsily act out the explicit things they’d been thinking of and drip-fed by modern pornography and a sex-based media. They might well appear incongruous to people with experience of lesbian sex (which I don’t have), but I have no clue what straight teenagers get up to these days either. Youth is scary and ferocious and often much more different to what we expect – and the sex scenes here seemed in keeping with the rest of the film in that regard.

Overall though, this is a powerfully modern and deeply affecting love story, something anyone looking to capture the intensity and heartbreak of young love can take their cue from.

The two lead actors, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux10
Getting two characters to represent pretty much everything about the move from childhood to adulthood10
The sex scenes, or at least what I think they were trying to do with them9
Taking the utterly intimate and making it utterly epic10
Reports of onset exploitation and mistreatment of the two lead actors5
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
9Overall Score

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