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'Blue Is the Warmest Color' Contains Graphic Lesbian Sex, But What's It Really About? Director Abdellatif Kechiche Explains Himself

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire October 21, 2013 at 12:50PM

Four and a half months after Cannes, Kechiche sat down for an interview in a downtown Manhattan hotel looking the opposite of his celebratory Cannes moment. He was dead serious, reserved and seemingly afraid to offer beyond a few words of insight about his movie at a time. More than anything else, Kechiche looked tired, and so did his translator.
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"Blue is the Warmest Color."
"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."

This article is related to: Features, News, Abdellatif Kechiche , The Secret of the Grain, Cannes Film Festival, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Romance, LGBT, Sexuality, Queer Cinema, Steven Spielberg, IFC Films






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