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The tumultuous journey of Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Lea Seydoux, Abdellatif Kechiche and Adele Exarchopoulos celebrating in Cannes

There is no other movie that merits a Golden Globe nomination more than Blue is the Warmest colour, which has garnered more accolades than any other film this year since it began its journey at the Cannes Film festival, where it was awarded the prestigious Palme D’or, after it had stunned audiences and critics with its explosive graphic lesbian sex.

Indeed, this three-hour emotional epic boasts the longest sex scene in recent history, but it also lingers on other life pleasures such as food, art, literature, music and conversation. Directed by acclaimed French-Tunisian director, Abdellatif Kechiche, the film unflinchingly bares reality to its core and daringly delves into the most intimate human experiences and challenges societal conformities and inhibitions.

The film is a sexual coming-of-age story about a high-school girl, Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), who, having failed to sate her carnal pleasure with her boyfriend, falls for a slightly older blue-haired female artist, Emma (Lea Seydoux). The couple embarks on a passionate, steamy love affair, that eventually crumbles under the mundane pressures of life.

Critics raved about film’s honest and poignant portrayal of first love, and the fearless performances of Seydoux and Exarchopoulos, and their ability to capture their hunger for each other and for life.  But not everyone was impressed.

Julie Maroh, who wrote the graphic novel on which the movie is based, charged that lesbians were missing in the sex scenes, which were enacted by two heterosexual actresses.  But when I spoke to Kechiche, he said that the sexual propensities of the actresses was irrelevant. He just wanted two actresses who were able to incarnate the passion of the two characters and their attraction to each other. In fact, he refrained from choreographing the sex scenes, and let the actresses be guided by their passion for each other. “The only mandate was to experience it for themselves and that the camera was there to capture what was happening but it was also there to protect their freedom to explore and just experience it,” he said.

Shot from every angle with different lenses, the sex scenes are quite explicit and clinical, prompting some to compare them to pornography. But unlike pornographic movies, which abstract women for the mere intention of sexual arousal, Blue is a compelling emotional journey of a young girl, who experiences the joys and pains of profound love. Sex is merely a manifestation of the depth of her passion for her lover, and it was not the only activity that deepened the bond between them. They shared all aspects of their lives through the vicissitudes of their affair: the taste of food, socialising with friends, intellectual conversations and family visits.

The explicit nature of Blue has not been the only source of controversy. In September, a fight broke out between the director and his actresses, who had claimed in a press interview that he was “horrible” and a bully, vowing never to work with him again. Though subsequently, Exarchopoulos distanced herself from these comments, when I spoke to her, saying that she would love to work with Kechiche again, in spite of the hardship she had to endure during the shoot. “He is a genius and I owe him a lot,” she stressed.

However, Seydoux, the granddaughter of Pathe chairman Jerome Seydoux, broke into tears when we discussed the subject, insisting that she would never work with the director again, in spite of her admiration for his work.

Kechiche’s reaction to his actresses’ grievance was utter shock, and he flatly denied the allegations. “To this day, I had only statements of love and gratitude for taking them onto this journey,” he told me. He also accused Seydoux of poisoning young Exarchopoulos’ mind with her polemic, suggesting that had she not come from a powerful family, she would’ve not made those statements. He even hinted that perhaps Seydoux’s powerful family were trying to nudge him out of the system.

“I hired two actresses; they knew my prior work and knew the project they were getting into. The shoot was supposed to last two and a half months, but I had trouble drawing the performance from Seydoux, so it took twice as much time to shoot the film,” he said.

To ensure the survival of the project, Kechiche invested 1 million euros of his own money, and asked Seydoux to step out, but she fought back and he relented to her persuasion. “It’s indecent of Lea to speak of suffering when we are doing the most beautiful profession in the world. It’s hard to understand the motivation behind this criticism,” he agonised.

Later in September, the film was hit by another blow when the Academy of Motion Picture, Art and Sciences deemed it ineligible for Oscar’s Best Foreign Picture race, because it was not released in the US before the September 30th. It was released on October 9th.

Notwithstanding the challenges and obstacles, Blue has continued to gain critical praise and box-office success.  It’s an indelible cinematic experience that will be remembered for a long time.

 

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