On Controversy & “Blue Is The Warmest Color”

This article contains some spoilers for Blue is the Warmest Color.

When the lesbian romantic drama Blue is the Warmest Color premiered at Cannes last May there were a few things that made it stand out. It won the Palme d’Or, the most coveted award at the festival. The actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, both were praised for their incredible performances and the film became the first movie to have the Palme given to the actors as well as the director. Controversially, those actors engaged in a lengthy, graphic lesbian sex scene that garnered the film an NC-17 rating. Unsurprisingly, it’s this latter bit that has gotten the film most of its attention, thanks to a large amount of controversy surrounding the making of the film and the portrayal of the sex onscreen.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Seydoux called the experience “horrible,” and both actresses agreed they’d never work with the director Abdellatif Kechiche again. “[Kechiche] is a genius, but he’s tortured,” Exarchopoulos said. They shot for five and a half months, often doing 100 takes of a single scene. In an interview with The Independent, Seydoux was asked if she ever feared she was playing into a “male fantasy,” and she replied,  “Yes. Of course it was kind of humiliating sometimes, I was feeling like a prostitute. Of course, he uses that sometimes. He was using three cameras, and when you have to fake your orgasm for six hours… I can’t say that it was nothing. But for me it is more difficult to show my feelings than my body.”

Similarly upset with the process was Julie Maroh, author of the graphic novel on which the film is based. “This was what was missing on the set: lesbians,” she told the New York Times. She found the scenes to be “a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn.”

Going to see the film there’s already a lot going against it, but despite all the controversy, the film is still one of the best of the year, a raw, emotionally intense three hours. And when that infamous scene arrives, it arrives with a purpose. Yes, it is graphic. Yes, it is long. But is it just porn, simply there for the enjoyment of the straight male director? Certainly not.

From the start, the film is all about the coming of age of Adèle (Exarchopoulos), and Kechiche takes us with her on that journey, having all the emotions and experiences she does. And so when that scene comes, he takes us with her on a passionate ride, one that is as sensual and intense for the audience as it is for Adèle. It solidifies the feelings Adèle has, and makes the eventual decline of the relationship all the more tragic. The scene also contrasts to the other sex scenes in the movie, each of which are serving other purposes. Earlier in the film Adèle has sex with a man but it’s not even close to as physical or sensual as her first time with Emma (Seydoux) – that experience blows Adèle’s other sexual experiences out of the water and the intense energy of the 7-minute sex scene makes that clear and powerful.

Additionally, a big part of why the reaction to the scene has been so strong can actually just be attributed to the way sex scenes are portrayed in the average Hollywood movie. Often it’s PG-13, very short, most of the body is covered, and it’s really only in the film so they can show a snippet of it in trailers. A big part of the audience reaction (which at my screening, included a lot of laughter) is more of a result of that than the scene being particularly silly or gratuitous. The sex scene with no nudity that serves no purpose is more gratuitous than anything in Blue is the Warmest Color.

Kechiche is likely a terrible human being and tyrannical director but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a great artist. Just look at Hitchock! Everything about the production of the film seems to have been unpleasant and at times probably illegal, but that doesn’t lesser the quality of the film. And out of the three hours of the movie, maybe 15 minutes is taken up with sex scenes, a fairly small amount. That shouldn’t be the main topic of conversation with Blue is the Warmest Color, it should be about how the film is one of the best of the year and features two incredible performances. Hopefully in the future it’ll be remembered as such.

Article by Wesley Emblidge 

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