Blue is the Warmest Color, Abdellatif Kechiche’s drama about a romance between two young women, took to four screens this weekend and opened with $100,316. That’s $25,079 for each screen, a better average than Michael Haneke’s Amour, the drama about an elderly woman and her husband that earned five Oscar nods and a win in the foreign-language film race last year.
Both French-language films emerged from Cannes as Palme d’Or winners, but the comparisons end there. Haneke is better known and more respected than Kechiche, for starters. Amour garnered a PG-13 from the Motion Picture Association of America. The same organization marked Blue, on the other hand, with NC-17, commonly known as a kiss of death in the U.S., for explicit scenes between the love interests. The brouhaha between Kechiche and Blue leads Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux might not help either.
Still, Blue scored an impressive debut, given the controversies surrounding it. So, where does it go from here? It’s old news at this point, but the rules of the foreign-language feature race prohibit the film from earning a nod there, but Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix should land a spot in a weak adapted screenplay Oscar race. (The Weinstein Co.’s move of Lee Daniels’ The Butler into the original screenplay category still perplexes me.)
Screen-acting legends – all of whom have Oscars or Oscar nominations – fill the best actress race, but Oscar voters love welcoming actresses to the nomination club – especially when promising newcomers are involved. Veteran Emmanuelle Riva and debut performer Quvenzhané Wallis earned their first Oscar nominations for Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, respectively, last year, even when the precursors suggested they wouldn’t. Distributor Sundance Selects is campaigning for Exarchopoulos as the lead actress of Blue. Sasha Stone of Awards Daily recently wrote about how sex sells in the best actress race, and it’s something that could easily help the ingénue find her way into Oscar’s top five.
The supporting actress race feels a bit weak when we look beyond current front-runners Lupita Nyong’o and Oprah Winfrey. A wave of love for Nebraska might thrust June Squibb into the mix; we can say the same of American Hustle and Jennifer Lawrence, one of the only young actresses whom American moviegoers appreciate nowadays, not to mention Blue Jasmine and Sally Hawkins, whom Oscar snubbed in 2008.
Voters need to remember Woody Allen’s film beyond Cate Blanchett for Hawkins to emerge as a contender. Lawrence’s status in Hollywood helps, but American Hustle still needs to make its own space in this crowded season. Will audiences even respond to Nebraska? It’s still a guessing game, but Seydoux might break into the supporting actress race, where many contenders hope to ride on their films’ coattails.
But Blue might miss out on the big race. The Kids Are All Right, Milk, and Brokeback Mountain, all of which feature same-gender romances, reaped bids for best picture, but look at the talent involved: Annette Bening and Julianne Moore led Kids; Gus Van Sant helmed Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and James Franco in Milk; and Ang Lee directed Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, and Anne Hathaway in Brokeback. Abdellatif, Exarchopoulos, and Seydoux lack such clout.
Significant critical support and impressive box office could land it in the best picture category, but they might only be enough for Blue to score actress, supporting actress, and adapted screenplay nominations.