Earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, Blue is the Warmest Color received the distinction of becoming the first film in history to win the Palme d’Or for both the film’s director and its two lead actresses. But this isn’t the only press that the film has received; it has also amassed quite a stir of controversy due to its NC-17 rating and graphic sexual content. Despite this controversy and the film’s lengthy three hour runtime, Blue is the Warmest Color is one of the most mature love stories to come around in years. It is an emotionally draining experience that is anchored by two of the best performances in all of 2013. Their Palme d’Ors are very much deserved.

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a young girl in high school who is still trying to figure out who she is. She knows that she wants to become a teacher but, beyond this, she has very little idea of what the future will hold for her. She begins a relationship with a boy who is interested in her, but she calls it off because something is missing. Ultimately, she finds what has been missing in her life in Emma (Léa Seydoux), a blue haired college student who is majoring in fine arts. The two of them instantly take a liking to each other and begin an intimate relationship. The film chronicles this relationship, in both its joys and tribulations. Not only do the two of them discover, through their partner, what has been missing in their lives, but they also discover more about themselves.

Writer/Director Abdellatif Kechiche portrays these two characters so realistically, that the film almost feels documentary-like. By choosing to utilize an excessive use of close ups on the characters and very few establishing shots, Kechiche makes the audience feel as if they are right in the moment with the characters. What we see, what we hear and what we feel, all feel true to what Adèle and Emma are seeing, hearing and feeling. The story isn’t entirely original, but it feels truthful in its simplicity. As I left the theater, I felt as if I had experienced a large chunk of someone’s life with them, and leaving them after having cared for so long was emotionally devastating. The three hour runtime may seem daunting to some viewers, but it truly absorbs you into the lives of these characters.

Kechiche chooses to avoid over the top melodrama and, instead, focuses on the day to day interactions of the two girls: having dinner with the folks, enjoying a picnic in the park, making passionate love to one another. This last point is one of the primary reasons that the film has garnered so much controversy and, while the sexual scenes between the two girls are very explicit, they don’t feel exploitative. The scenes are infused with so much passion from the two actresses that, even though one of the scenes probably lasts for a bit too long, they always feel important. By lingering on these scenes for such an extended period of time, the audience will feel as if they have experienced this expression of love as much as the two characters have. These scenes are intense, moving, but still somehow highly romantic.

Of course, none of this could have been achieved without the two fantastic lead performances that anchor the film and give it a sense of emotional potency. Adèle Exarchopoulos is astounding as Adèle, giving the character a sense of emotional vulnerability that feels relatable and real. At the film’s onset, Adèle isn’t sure about who she is and we, as an audience, watch her discover herself and grow in the process. Exarchopoulos is given several incredibly emotional scenes and she pulls them off with incredible believability. Léa Seydoux is instantly charming as Emma, a girl that both we and Adèle immediately fall for. But she is more than just a charmer; she is also excellent in her dramatic scenes as well. A scene in which Emma confronts Adèle about a secret she has been keeping is emotionally affecting in the best possible way. But even outside the dramatically heavy scenes, these two actresses have an undeniable chemistry between them, which makes the audience truly care about the relationship that they are witnessing.

A film that chronicles the joys, troubles and poignancy of a relationship, Blue is the Warmest Color is a love story that feels honest and true. By the end of the film, audiences will feel as if they have experienced a relationship with the characters and they will not want to let them go. With films like 12 Years a Slave and Fruitvale Station, 2013 has already been a year of emotional films and Blue is the Warmest Color continues to add to that repertoire. Like any relationship, it is something that will stick with you, in your thoughts and in your heart, long after it has ended.

Blue is the Warmest Color receives 3.5/4