Blue is the Warmest Color has been on my radar since May when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. I watched the film last night for the first time in its entirety and woke up this morning to read Tim Teeman’s article in the New York Times analyzing the film through the perspective of the people it aims to depict–lesbians.
In the months leading up to its nationwide release last week, much of the buzz about this film has centered upon its making history at Cannes where both its director, Abdellatif Kechiche, and its main actress, Adèle Exarchopoulos, were awarded the Palme d’Or, the film festival’s highest honor, at which point it was heralded as a historic film, an important film, a critical darling.
The tone of how we talk about this movie has changed, however, as audiences have had a chance to see the graphic sex scene between Exarchopoulos, who plays a high school junior struggling with her sexuality when she meets a college student, Emma (Léa Seydoux) who becomes her first, and greatest love. The scene in question could either be considered seven minutes in heaven or hell, depending upon your perspective–and there are plenty of people coming down on both sides. Julie Maroh who wrote the graphic novel on which the film is based, is among the dissenters–Teeman notes that she described the simulated sex scene as “porn” on her blog back in May–we’re giving away a copy of Maroh’s novel on Nov. 12. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos told the Daily Beast in September that they’d never work with Kechiche again. For her part, Seydoux went as far as to say she felt “disrespected” during the filming because in France, directors hold all the power and actors are under contract to acquiesce to their artistic vision. So very French.
According to Teeman’s article, lesbians who have seen the film have found the scene in question to be hilariously misguided and fantastical. The film premiered in France the same month the country legalized same-sex marriage, and I suspect that the overtly in-your-face depiction of these two lovers was less about the misguided fantasies of a misogynistic filmmaker and more about sparking social controversy and conversation. Which some would argue, is the work that art is supposed to accomplish.
It is a frenetic, contortionist’s take on love making to be sure–and the end result more closely resembles an anatomy lesson than romance. While Teeman quotes several women familiar with depicting lesbian sex on screen, from pornographers to a producer from The L Word, not a one says, “yes, I identify with and find sexy what I saw in the movie.” They mostly chuckle knowingly about the intersection of the male cinematographic gaze and lady-on-lady sex.
Yes, this scene feeds the farcical idea that two women doing it is the most magical, mind-blowing experience any man could ever dream of, but it’s my opinion, sex-scene controversy aside, that Blue is the Warmest Color is the kind of film (when taken in its entirety) that American cinema could stand to see more of, especially after the summer of lifeless, thrill-free, wannabe blockbusters we just slogged through.
The true nature of sex, like the true nature of romance, or marriage, is really none of my business, no matter who the couple is and how the two (or more, I suppose) people in it define their genders. All of these things are inherently private which is what makes them so fascinating on the screen. At the same time, no matter how excellent the film, I don’t perceive any simulated sexual interaction shot on a soundstage surrounded by a bunch of mic booms, lighting rigs and rolling film cameras to be real, anthropological examinations of human nature. So whether you laugh, whether you cry or whether you look away and count down the 420 seconds with your eyes closed, spending three hours watching a film that causes us to question, to debate and to digest something other than an entire tub of popcorn is worth the price of a movie ticket any day.