When Blue Is the Warmest Color won the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the jury, headed by Steven Spielberg, rewarded not only its director (Tunisian Abdellatif Kechiche) but also the two lead actresses (Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux) with the highest award. Although many films that won the Palm d'Or were anchored by strong performances, a director sharing the award with his actors had never happened at the Croisette before.
And there they were, all three smiles, the director and his actresses, kissing and laughing, while sharing the most prestigious award from the international film festival circuit.
It has since gotten very ugly. In prepping for the release of the NC-17 romance in North America, a tete-a-tete began between Seydoux and Kechiche. And a Palm d'Or winner became tabloid journalism for cineastes. They've all been stripped naked.
Seydoux went on the offensive stating that while she was proud of the film, she'd never work with for Kechiche again; then went further, saying she felt "trapped" and like a "prostitute" in the sex scenes, with her acting soul battered by the almost yearlong shoot.
Kechiche has moved from defensive to bitter to outright dismissive of Seydoux.
"If Lea was born in cotton, she would never [complain of the working conditions]," Kechiche said at the Los Angeles press day. "How indecent to talk about pain when doing one of the best jobs in the world! Aides suffer, the unemployed suffer, construction workers could talk about suffering."
Kechiche added, "if Seydoux lived such a bad experience, why did she come to Cannes, try on robes and jewelry all day? Is she an actress or an artist of the red carpet?"
It's funny seeing a film such as Blue become he said, she said fodder. This is America. We were supposed to just be asking questions about the necessity of the lengthy sex scenes: every red-cheeked, mouth agape, fleshy moment of the extended trysts.
I don't know if my opinion of the film has changed at all from the behind the scenes steam-venting. I know that, to me, their soundbites and open letters are hotter and more salacious than the film.
I don't mean that as a disservice. Blue doesn't try to be hot. It's mechanical. It shows the mechanics of relationship: the first glimpse, the awkwardness, the giddy feeling of meeting in public, the time spent waiting for next contact, the lies to the parents or friends, the excitement in exploring a different body, the traps of boredom, the public roles each partner assumes when hosting others, and the contrast of their private roles behind closed doors.
The sex is mechanical, too: inserted tongues, digits, tightly clutched skin, rolling hips.
"Everyone knew the sexual nature of the film. The actresses were chosen because you could see there was an attraction there. Nothing was choreographed or charted," Kechiche told me via a French translator at the French Consulate in Los Angeles.
The sex scenes took ten days to shoot. "We would spend a few days shooting the sex scene where I was first experiencing lesbian sex and was a little shy and awkward and then we would spend a few days on the scenes where I knew what I was doing," Exarchopoulos said to me.
"I couldn't ask Adele and Lea to make desire last, they had to want to do the scenes," Kechiche told La Nouvel Observateur. "It's like the meal in The Secret Of The Grain that I filmed many times. We filmed until the actors weren't hungry anymore and then we filmed the next day."
The filmmaking is akin to a nature documentary. There are numerous shots of the actresses eating and fornicating, with the proper noises to accompany the sloppiness or daintiness that goes with either. There is no montage of cute relationship moments set to pop music. There is no soft lighting reserved for their naked bodies.
This film could be shot out into outerspace as a lasting document of the human experience of love and pain. It's a great achievement in this regard. However, transcripts from interviews would have to accompany this launched vessel.
At this point, Blue Is the Warmest Color is now its own failed relationship. There was a lot of work, strife and early (filmed) sex (scenes). The Cannes Film Festival was the highpoint. The North American press round was the breakup. Seydoux broke up with her director and now her director is lashing out through the media, even stating that the film shouldn't even be released now because it's been "soiled".
What's interesting to me is that Kechiche obviously identifies with the character of Adele (played by Exarchopoulos), but he's taken the opposite approach of handling the breakup. In the film, Adele comes from a working class family. She wants to be a teacher. She chews loudly at the dinner table. She enjoys simplicity. She feels lost in the sea of Emma's more refined friends.
Emma comes from a wealthier family.
Emma's parents aren't impressed with Adele's desire to be a teacher. Later, neither is Emma, who wants to ultimately be with another creative. She views Adele's work as repetitive and unfulfilling.
As Kechiche told me, again via a translator, "When two people meet they bring with them the backgrounds of their families and their experiences. They might try to block certain counteractive feelings, but it's impossible to keep blocked up forever. So when these two characters start living together -- these things can come to head."
Kechiche has taken issue with Seydoux's background, calling her "spoiled" and that she "imagines herself belong to an untouchable caste," in an open letter that threatens possible legal action against Seydoux for slander. Seydoux is the granddaughter of Jérôme Seydoux, CEO of Pathé which is one of the longest running film production and distribution companies in the world.
At this point I've written more about the press rounds than the film itself. I've also referenced other accounts more often than my own interview with Kechiche, Seydoux and Exarchopoulos.
When I met them, all three were polite. There were no tears. There were no accusations. Kechiche was docile and spoke in a very soft and deliberate manner. He had good posture. Seydoux also had good posture and a big smile that would become coy when she could tell a journalist was trying to bait her into more juicy tidbits. Exarchopoulos was Adele: she ate a cookie loudly. Her translator placed a napkin under her fingers because she was dropping crumbs. Everyone said nice things and Seydoux didn't fall into traps to add fuel to the fire. The public squabbling was at another venue than I was at, and I am glad for that.
I bring up the press rounds because to me, the strength of Blue Is the Warmest Color is its honesty and its ability to navigate a romance that, despite sexual orientation, is largely universal to anyone who has ever loved and lost in equal measure.
Adele and Emma ultimately have differences that override their passion. They come from different social backgrounds, but not polar opposites. They want some different things, but some of the same things. There is a give and take that works but ultimately breaks.
Blue Is the Warmest Color is more honest than most romances about what brings lovers together and takes them apart. There is a lack of big events and an emphasis on routine. In this way, the film is exact but also, at three hours, a bit overlong (yet "overlong" is how we can all probably describe a relationship we had).
In an art-imitates-life film, life is now imitating the celebrated artwork: the press circus has been overlong, the breakup has been petty and -- like a doomed relationship itself -- the breakup has overshadowed the feelings and moments that the movie gives.
Perhaps, like a shoebox of old photographs, Blue Is the Warmest Color will be bittersweet in revisiting for the actresses, director, Cannes jury members and film festival-goers who view it again. And it all will come full circle. For the rest, the film opens in select US markets today and how they feel about the film might be colored by the various behind the scenes reports.
By the end of the film, Emma is celebrated at a gallery showing of her artwork; Adele dressed to re-impress, attends, attempts small talk and walks away, alone, not sure of her emotions; she is proud of Emma but is unsure of what that does for her anymore.
Blue Is the Warmest Color is in select theaters now.