Posted on Friday, October 25th, 2013 by Angie Han
The news that the MPAA had stamped Abdellatif Kechiche‘s Blue Is the Warmest Color with an NC-17 rating wasn’t much of a shock. The board is famously prudish when it comes to sex, and the film raised eyebrows at Cannes for its lengthy, intense, and graphic scenes of lesbian lovemaking.
Distributor Sundance Selects announced in August that it would not “compromise Kechiche’s vision” by whittling it down for an R, so it’s rolling into theaters this weekend with that NC-17 rating still intact. Normally, this would prevent anyone under 17 from seeing the movie, even with parental supervision. But one theater in New York has decided to defy the MPAA recommendation and let teens see it anyway. Hit the jump to find out why.
To be clear, this isn’t exactly a big corporate chain we’re talking about. The cinema in question is the IFC Center, which — like Blue Is the Warmest Color‘s U.S. distributor Sundance Selects — is part of the IFC family. Still, it’s unusual for a theater to flat-out ignore the MPAA rating like this. At least one American theater has even gone in the opposite direction, refusing to show the film at all due to its sexual content.
In a statement, John Vanco, the IFC Center’s senior VP and general manager, explained why he felt “high school age patrons” should be able to see the movie. “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,” he wrote.
While the vast majority of theaters in the U.S. adhere to the MPAA guidelines, as the New York Times points out, the ratings are technically just recommendations “without legal or contractual force.” It’s just that public expectation and industry pressure make it tough for a theater to simply flout the ratings.
The MPAA has come under fire plenty of times over the years for its inconsistent — some would say totally nonsensical — approach to ratings. It tends to be far more forgiving of violence than of sensuality or bad language, which is how The King’s Speech winds up with an R while The Dark Knight gets away with a PG-13. Heck, it even gave the documentary Bully an R at first, essentially arguing that kids are too young to hear the language that they themselves are using in real life.
In the case of Blue Is the Warmest Color, there was never much doubt that the MPAA would give it an NC-17. Still, not everyone agrees that graphic sex scenes should automatically be off limits to young people. Times reporter A.O. Scott argues that the scenes aren’t actually all that scandalous, and that the plot — which centers around a high school girl — is actually more appropriate for teens than adults in some ways. The MPAA equivalent in France apparently agrees: Blue Is the Warmest Color got a 12 rating in its native country, which roughly corresponds to a PG-13 here.