Julien K. here, your special correspondent in Paris, reporting on the recent controversy surrounding the latest Palme d’or winner, Blue is the Warmest Color.
As those of you who are familiar with the French film industry may know, director Abdellatif Kechiche’s work has been consistently lavished with praise for the last decade. In 2005, his sophomore effort L’esquive –a raw, direct exploration of teenage sexual politics in the banlieues (the French suburban hoods) by way of eighteenth century playwright Marivaux- unexpectedly trumped critical favorite Kings and Queen and populist heavyweights A Very Long Engagement and Oscar nominee The Chorus at the César Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. The same thing happened in 2008, when his powerful immigrant family drama The Secret of the Grain defeated a pack of prestige Oscar contenders (La Vie en Rose, Persepolis, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) in the same top categories.
But now that he’s won the most prestigious award of them all, Kechiche is facing a harsh backlash. [more] It’s been widely reported that the three-hour lesbian romance Blue is the Warmest Color is the first “queer” film to ever win the top award at the Cannes film festival (though one could make a case for Farewell My Concubine back in 1993). What you may not have heard is that Blue is the first Palme d’or ever to be based on a graphic novel.
The eponymous source material, published in 2010, is the work of French comic artist Julie Maroh, who recently expressed her own feelings towards the film on her blog. And while she appreciated the film’s relative fidelity to her work and praised Kechiche’s masterful cinematic vision, she took umbrage at the much talked-about sex scenes. While NYT critic Manohla Dargis complained that “the movie feels far more about Mr. Kechiche’s desires than anything else”, Julie Maroh’s issues with these scenes were more gay-specific. As a lesbian, she found the sex unrealistic, and regretted that Kechiche (who is straight, as are two actresses) apparently did not consult any lesbians to stage them in a more convincing way:
Maybe there was someone there to awkwardly show them the possible positions with their hands, and/or to show them some so-called lesbian porn (unfortunately, it’s hardly ever actually for a lesbian audience). Because -except for a few scenes- this is all it brings to my mind: a brutal and surgical display, demonstrative and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn, and made me feel very ill at ease.
Another blow was the revelation that Kechiche basically brushed her off after securing the movie rights. While insisting that she felt no bitterness, Maroh disclosed that Kechiche stopped answering her messages since 2011, did not keep her informed about the production, did not welcome her on set, did not invite her to join the film’s team on the red carpet, and failed to mention her in his acceptance speech. All she got was a handshake on the evening of the official screening and a brief “Thanks, you were the starting point”.
Worse, Maroh’s account of Kechiche’s behavior came on the heels of widely publicized reports from the film’s crew that the six months long shoot and interminable editing process were a nightmare for all involved, effectively confirming suspicions that the much beloved director is in fact a tyrannical megalomaniac. For those of you who speak French, check out this hilariously nasty tumblr -created in all likelihood by a vengeful technician- which chronicles “The Real Life of Adele” (the film’s original title is “The Life of Adele”) by using famous movie gifs to illustrate the atmosphere on set.
Behold, what happens to a technician when he refuses to do Kechiche’s bidding:
All that, plus the local right-wing nutjobs -incensed by the recent voting of the law approving same sex marriage - who instantly accused the all-powerful, all-evil gay lobby of influencing the jury (as if anything could influence Lynne f****** Ramsay). “Nowadays we can’t watch a film or a TV series without gay people expressing themselves. And now it’s the Palme d’or. We’re invaded, we can’t have a story without gays”, claimed former minister and notorious crackpot Christine Boutin.
Too gay for some, not gay enough for others, Blue is the Warmest Color is already raising vital questions: can a man depict female sexuality frankly without being accused of sexism? Can a heterosexual filmmaker portray homosexuals without being called clueless or patronizing? What say you, readers? Speak up!