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Adele Exarchopoulos: Meet the face of a star

Sundance Selects

A moment packed with erotic longing and self-aware intensity — no, not the much ballyhooed sex scenes in “Blue Is the Warmest Color” but a scene even more naked.

Early in the film, one of Adele’s (Adele Exarchopoulos) high school friends (Alma Jodorowsky) casually flirts with her, testing her, while they sit outside the school smoking cigarettes. She tells Adele, who already suspects her own nature and struggles not to betray her discomfort, that she thinks Adele is cute, and then kisses her. Emboldened, Adele follows her friend into the bathroom the next day and attempts another kiss. “I didn’t think you’d get so hooked,” the friend remarks as she pulls away, leaving Adele alone with the dismissive retort, “Don’t worry — this won’t change anything between us.”

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Adele’s reaction — embarrassment, fear, rejection, the squashing of erotic impulse — is all there in Exarchopoulos’s eyes. Adele’s emotions are laid bare throughout the film, but never so painfully as in this moment where she first unmasks herself. It passes, of course, and leads to the more volcanic relationship with Emma (Lea Seydoux) that makes up the rest of the film. But it’s in that first soul-baring moment of exposure and risk that we ache most for her.

This scene comes right out of Julie Maroh’s 2010 graphic novel of the same title that was the primary source for the screenplay, which could be one of the reasons it feels so authentic. The other, of course, is Exarchopoulos, whose brimming eyes and quivering mouth in close-up register every emotion with startling rawness and sensitivity. Like the best silent film stars, she doesn’t need dialogue. She has the face.

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