The Cannes Palme d'Or winner "Blue Is the Warmest Color" will be released with an NC-17 rating in the United States, Sundance Selects announced on Tuesday.
The decision to release Abdellatif Kechiche's sexually explicit coming-of-age story with the NC-17 makes it the first movie of the year to bear that rating, and only the fourth in the last five years.
The film will be released on Oct. 25, after upcoming screenings at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals.
"This is a landmark film with two of the best female performances we have ever seen on screen," said Sundance Selects/IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring in a press release announcing the decision. "The film is first and foremost a film about love, coming of age and passion. We refuse to compromise Kechiche's vision by trimming the film for an R rating, and we have every confidence that 'Blue Is the Warmest Color' will play in theaters around the country regardless."
"Blue Is the Warmest Color" stars Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Sedoux as young women who become involved in a sexual relationship. Though it gained initial attention because of a lengthy sex scene between the two, the film won raves at Cannes, and jury president Steven Spielberg said it was an easy choice for the festival's top prize.
Given the badge of honor bestowed by a Palme d'Or, Sundance Selects would have been mercilessly criticized if it had ordered the extensive cuts necessary to bring the film an R rating. Its only real choice was to accept the NC-17 or to do what most companies in its situation have done, and release the film without an MPAA rating.
In the last five years, more than 1,000 movies have been released without a rating, while only three have gone out with an NC-17. The latest was William Friedkin's "Killer Joe," which grossed almost $2 million in 2012; the top-grossing was Steve McQueen's "Shame," which grossed $3.9 million in 2011.
The vast majority of the movies that were released unrated would not have been rated NC-17, but were released by companies that are not MPAA members and opted not to go through the ratings process.
When "Shame" was released with an NC-17 by Fox Searchlight, National Association of Theater Owners president John Fithian told TheWrap, "I think we need more bold filmmakers and distributors to make content appropriate for the rating and release it that way."
Typically, the NC-17 severely restricts the number of theaters that will show a film, and the venues in which it can be advertised -- but Sundance Selects insisted that it is confident "Blue Is the Warmest Color" can succeed with the rating.
"An NC-17 rating no longer holds the stigma it once did, and we look forward to bringing this unforgettable film to audiences nationwide," said Sehring. "We believe this film will leave a lasting imprint as the 'Last Tango in Paris' for a whole new generation."
The press release pointed out that the film was rated acceptable for viewers over 12 in France, and Sehring criticized the MPAA ratings system that was the target of a past IFC release, Kirby Dick's documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated."
"We have intimate knowledge of how the MPAA works, and it is unquestionable that changes must be made," said Sehring. "That the board finds violence acceptable for young viewers while condemning sex is egregious."
The MPAA's explanatory note that will be attached to the NC-17 rating will say that the rating is due to "explicit sexual content."