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by Eric Kohn
October 21, 2013 12:50 PM
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'Blue Is the Warmest Color' Contains Graphic Lesbian Sex, But What's It Really About? Director Abdellatif Kechiche Explains Himself

"Blue is the Warmest Color."

For viewers like myself who saw and enjoyed "Blue" at Cannes, the sex mainly served to illustrate the bond between the two women so that their eventual relationship problems carried an element of intensity that viewers could understand in intimate detail. But it's additionally a means of foregrounding the physical dimensions of new experiences for alienated youth, which is also familiar Kechiche turf: Kechiche's 2003 debut "Games of Love and Chance" involved teen lovers engrossed in similar creative aspirations. For Kechiche, however, "Blue" contextualizes the coming-of-age routine as part of a larger process. "I mean, of course it's a running theme for me," he said. "But it's an experience that we continue to go through. It's alive in us."

Despite the universality of its subject, however, "Blue" also very clearly exists in the present. "For a male filmmaker from an Arab background to make a film that contains numerous scenes of steamy and highly explicit lesbian sex is itself a political statement," wrote Salon's Andrew O'Hehir in May, going so far as to call it "the first great love story of the 21st century that feels completely of the moment."

The movie encourages a progressive dialogue on sexual experience, but it's simultaneously a clear-cut portrait of millennial frustrations -- the tenuous blend of excitement and ambivalence that defines today's youth. Kechiche, of course, resists any basic attempt to pigeonhole the movie as a statement. "On the one hand, yes, I think it does follow a line of social commentary," he said. "I prefer to think that the story between the two characters sort of rises above that."

Yet one can easily find the natural connection between the immigrant storyline of Kechiche's "The Secret of the Grain" and "Blue," where the middle class Adele transforms her pragmatic ambitions after encountering the intellectualism of Emma's world. "The reality is that these are two different people from two different social milieus," Kechiche explained. "That's an important part of their relationship, so it inevitably does fall in line with social commentary by virtue of where the characters come from."

With Adele at the center of the story, however, "Blue" is best seen not as a provocation so much as a bittersweet portrait of growing up, which has naturally invited comparisons to Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows." Without the sex scenes, "Blue" might raise fewer eyebrows, but the central dynamic would remain intact. U.S. distributor IFC Films has implicitly addressed concerns surrounding the movie's contents with its trailer, which contains quotes from both Spielberg and famed New Queer Cinema critic B. Ruby Rich.

The implication is clear: "Blue" might push certain boundaries in terms of the images it puts onscreen, but the fundamentals of its plot are traditionally heartwarming. Kechiche knows it's not the easiest combo. "When one makes a movie, one always aspires to have it seen by as many people as possible," he said. "At the same time, with this type of movies, it's not necessarily going to be a blockbuster."

But even if the fallout of "Blue" has exhausted the filmmaker, he hasn't lost his drive. "There are so many stories I'd like to tell," he said, visibly energized for the first time in a half hour conversation. "There are so many subjects I'd like to explore. I could do a science fiction film, or a western, or a police story." Told he should consider doing all of them, the wide smile from his famed Cannes photo finally returned. "I'm going to try," he said, "if life gives me the opportunity and time."


  • vinodkumar | October 21, 2013 4:25 PMReply


  • brian fantana | October 21, 2013 4:07 PMReply

    no where in the movie does it say Adele is 15 - are you pulling that from the graphic novel? the director changed the story line in so many way (including this one) - maybe yo u should watch the movie before condemning it - have you really seen it????

  • Carole | October 21, 2013 3:33 PMReply

    Corrections to post: "The desire of Hollywood to be "cool" has clearly gone beyond "artistic" to sick."
    "...I said to my colleague...

  • Carole | October 21, 2013 3:31 PMReply

    Thank God, someone recognizes the exploitation of the women by this male who from the comments in this story from the gay community certainly was off the mark in presenting a realistic view of lesbian sex. The point so many people missed is that Adele was only 15, and this older woman, at least in the U.S., was guilty of statutory rape. If a man had been with a 15-year-old depicting this kind of graphic sex, it would be considered porno and illegal. He would be arrested. It would never have been released - and certainly - would not receive an award. What was Steven Spielberg thinking? The desire of Hollywood to be "cool" is clearly gone beyond "artistic" to sick. I saw the movie in Cannes, and people were crawling over each other to leave as soon as the film was over. I was physically sick at the exploitation of women and could not wait to get out of the theater. When I saw one of the actresses crying, I said to my college, she is humiliated seeing herself on the screen - and so apparently she was.

  • Lisa Nesselson | October 21, 2013 4:31 PM

    The age of consent is 15 or 16 in many European countries. As for " What was Steven Spielberg thinking?," I imagine from his statements that he was thinking that "Blue is the Warmest Color" was the best film his jury was required to watch in this year's competition. As for "Hollywood," and its alleged desire to be "cool," there were some very accomplished women on that jury, none of them from Hollywood (unless Nicole Kidman is an honorary member of that crowd in your view; her filmography boasts many non-Hollywood-style films.)

    I didn't see any exploited women on screen. I saw two French female characters experiencing the elation of romance and the fall-out of sorrow.

    We've since learned that Kechiche's working methods drove some members of both cast and crew to the pre-breaking point. Many directors -- talented or not -- push their actors to the brink. As in any workplace, that's unfortunate and not to be condoned. But the resulting film is magnificent. You apparently had the good fortune to see it under optimum conditions (as did I), before people started carrying on about supposedly 10-to-20 minute sex scenes and before "The Daily Beast" took comments by the lead actresses out of context, which then snowballed into the nonsense we've all been reading.

    Anybody and everybody is free to form an opinon about what's on the screen but introducing the notion of statutory rape in the U.S. were the older character male is wildly beside the point. What if the older character had been a black male in the deep South in 1950? Then maybe he would've gotten lynched. What if the young women had been citizens of certain non-European countries? They might have been stoned to death.

    The fact is, the characters are French in contemporary France (and imaginary at that).

  • Leticia | October 21, 2013 1:56 PMReply

    He shouldn't need to explain himself at all, really. If the movie is a realistic, in depth portray of a relationship, there's no point in excluding the sex from that, period. If we'll see them do in detail the most trivial things such as eating and talking, then it just makes sense. The fact that it's a lesbian couple is just the tip of the iceberg.
    All the attention the sex is getting is kinda boring. It is a few minutes in a 3 hour movie. Naturally it was very uncomfortable for the actresses (I'd like to know their point of view if they think were exploited or not - at least Adèle doesn't seem to think so), but so were many other scenes.

  • peanut | October 21, 2013 1:36 PMReply

    The actresses wore fake rubber vaginas. Not sure how graphic that actually is. More of a simulation of graphic lesbian sex.