The first time I watched Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche, I was barely sixteen. The legendary, almost pornographic 10-minute lesbian sex scene shocked me to the core. Kechiche took his dedication to realism to a level that I never knew films could go.
The three-hour-long French film is about the sexual awakening of a high school girl, Adéle (Adéle Exarchopoulos) and her love affair with an older art student, Emma (Léa Seydoux). I watched it two more times since then and my shock and discomfort never quite went away. I sure can go on and on about how this entire movie, with its graphic sex scenes and women feeding each other oysters, is Kechiche using female sexuality to prove his audacity as a heterosexual director who has a thing for woman with rear ends, but there are so many of those reviews out there and I want to talk more about some of the behind the scene stuff I learned during my research.
After the film had won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux sat down with Marlow Stern at the Telluride Film Festival and revealed their horrible experience working with Kechiche. They spent ten days shooting just one sex scene; they shot over 100 takes for a two second scene and when they messed up, Kechiche burst into a rampage. Eventually, what was supposed to be a two-month shoot lasted for five and a half. Both actresses were very adamant about never wanting to work with Kechiche again. (The Daily Beast)
All of this reminds me a lot of Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the former a masterpiece by Francis Coppola and the latter a documentary by Coppola’s wife recording her husband’s filmmaking process. Coppola went a little crazy. During the production in the Philippines, he had an epileptic seizure, a nervous breakdown, and allegedly threatened to commit suicide at least three times. He was relentless to his actors and staff, one of whom had a heart attack and many suffered from various tropical diseases. He put $30 million of his own money into the production and forced his family to the brim of bankruptcy.
During a news conference in Cannes Film Festival, Coppola said that “My film is not a movie. It is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.” (Time) Kechichi made a strikingly similar comment on his cinema during an interview with Jonathan Romney, “I don’t want it to look like life. I want it to actually be life. Real moments of life, that’s what I’m after.” (The Guardian)
In the interview that I mentioned previously, Exarchopoulos said “Every genius has his own complexity. Kechichi is a genius, but he is tortured.” Coppola’s wife also said something to the same effect in her documentary, “The film Francis is making is a metaphor for a journey into self. He has made that journey and is still making it. It’s scary to watch someone you love go into the center of himself and confront his fears, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of going insane. You have to fail a little, die a little, go insane a little to come out the other side.”
So here’s the question, where’s the boundary for cinematic realism and how do you know that you’ve gone too far? Do you have to, as Exarchopoulos and Coppola puts it, be a little “tortured” and even “die a little” to achieve greatness in this field?
P.S. If you’re interested, here’s the link to a New York Times review that bashes Kechiche pretty hard. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/movies/the-trouble-with-blue-is-the-warmest-color.html
Corliss, Richard. “Apocalypse Back Then, And Now.” Time. Time Inc., 29 July 2001. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
Hearts of Darkness–a Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Dir. Eleanor Coppola. Triton Pictures, 1991.
Romney, Jonathan. “Abdellatif Kechiche Interview: ‘Do I Need to Be a Woman to Talk about Love between Women?'” The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 26 Oct. 2013. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
Stern, Marlow. “The Stars of ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ On the Riveting Lesbian Love Story.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 01 Sept. 2013. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.