Blue Is the Warmest Colour, the book adaption that took home the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, has been groundbreaking in more ways than one. Not only does the plot focus on a lesbian romance, but it is also the first comic book adaption to win the prestigious Palme d’Or. Written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, the film has recieved praise from viewers and critics alike.
One individual is not so pleased with the film adaptation, and that is the author of the graphic novel the film is based upon. Author Julie Maroh called the film’s long and drawn-out sex scenes, “a brutal and surgical display” on her blog. In contrast, critics have described the explicit love scenes as “magnificent” and “vividly real.”
I consider that Kechiche and I have contradictory aesthetic approaches, perhaps complementary. The fashion in which he chose to shoot these scenes is coherent with the rest of what he his creation. Sure, to me it seems far away from my own method of creation and representation, but it would be very silly of me to reject something on the pretext that’s it different from my own vision.
That’s me as a writer. Now, as a lesbian… It appears to me this was what was missing on the set: lesbians.
I don’t know the sources of information for the director and the actresses (who are all straight, unless proven otherwise) and I was never consulted upstream. Maybe there was someone there to awkwardly imitate the possible positions with their hands, and/or to show them some porn of so-called “lesbians” (unfortunately it’s hardly ever actually for a lesbian audience).
Because — except for a few passages — this is all that it brings to my mind: a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn, and me feel very ill at ease. Especially when, in the middle of a movie theater, everyone was giggling.
The heteronormative laughed because they don’t understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it’s not convincing, and found it ridiculous. And among the only people we didn’t hear giggling were the potential guys too busy feasting their eyes on an incarnation of their fantasies on screen.
I totally get Kechiche’s will to film pleasure. The way he filmed these scenes is to me directly related to another scene, in which several characters talk about the myth of the feminine orgasm, as…mystic and far superior to the masculine one. But here we go, to sacralize once more womanhood in such ways. I find it dangerous.
As a feminist and lesbian spectator, I can not endorse the direction Kechiche took on these matters. But I’m also looking forward to what other women will think about it. This is simply my personal stance.
2. Director Abdellatif Kechiche on filming the love scenes:
“What I was trying to do when we were shooting these scenes was to film what I found beautiful. So we shot them like paintings, like sculptures. We spent a lot of time lighting them to ensure they would look beautiful; after, the innate choreography of the loving bodies took care of the rest, very naturally. They had to be made aesthetically beautiful while keeping the sexual dimension. We tried many different things; we worked hard. We talked a lot but in the end discussions led nowhere. You talk a lot on set but ultimately what you say doesn’t matter that much because it’s so intellectualized, whereas reality is more intuitive.”
Director Abdellatif Kechiche did not mention the author in his acceptance speech.
Morah wrote that he, “No doubt had good reasons to do it, just like he certainly had good reasons for not making me more visible on the red carpet in Cannes (even though I crossed the whole country to join them).” She concluded that she felt no bitterness and the movie taking top honor was, “obviously wonderful and breathtaking.”
What did critics think of the film’s explicit love scenes?
3. From The Guardian:
The extended sex scenes have an explicitness and candour which can only be called magnificent; in fact they make the sex in famous movies like, say, Last Tango in Paris look supercilious and dated. (And it also rather exposes the confection of François Ozon’s Jeune et Jolie earlier in the competition.) There is something coolly, thrillingly uncompromising about the first sex scene especially, and also something quietly and inexplicably moving when Kechiche finally cuts from the end of that sequence to the crowd scene at a gay pride rally.
4. From Twitchfilm:
When the girls do fall, they fall fast and hard — right onto Emma’s mattress. The sex scenes are both passionate and primal and very, very realistic. Whether or not these girls are acting, there is little doubt that they are indeed having sex. No clever camera angles are used here and the scenes go on far longer than you might expect. But as raw as the sex is, it is far from exploitative and never voyeuristic. Kechiche earns the sex scenes through the characters he has developed. It’s the culmination of these two women’s love and it is incredibly powerful.
5. From Entertainment Weekly:
Ever since the late ’70s, there have been plenty of lesbian-awakening dramas, most of them on the soft and dewy side. In this case, when the sex scene was over, after what felt like it must have been 15 minutes of writhing, moaning erotic hunger, people in the audience burst into whoops of approval and applause — something I have never in my life seen happen after a sex scene. It’s not so much that the audience was being cute, attempting to acknowledge that the scene was “hot” (although yes, it seriously was). What they were applauding was the authenticity: the fact that the heat was real, and thus the heat had become the drama. Very Last Tango, except minus the perversity.
6. From The Hollywood Reporter:
But the emotions — and the sex, of which there is beaucoup — definitely run red hot in this deeply moving portrait of a young girl’s climb toward adulthood in the arms of another woman. Surely to raise eyebrows with its show-stopping scenes of non-simulated female copulation, the film is actually much more than that: It’s a passionate, poignantly handled love story … [and] the sex is really, really good.
7. From Vulture:
What has everyone talking, though, are the intensely erotic, incredibly realistic, quite lengthy, and almost certainly unsimulated sex scenes between the beautiful, sensual Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. … She grows miserable, and experiments, disappointingly, with kissing another girl at school, and gets hit on by pretty much every patron in a lesbian bar — but it’s clear that her chemistry with Emma is unique. So when they finally do connect sexually, it culminates not just in the release of Adèle’s long-suppressed desires, but with the union of two people who share an undefinable physical connection. I clocked the first sex scene between Adèle and Emma — replete with fingering, licking, and, as a friend called it, “impressive scissoring” — at an approximate ten minutes. Audience walkouts began around minute nine. That turned into spontaneous applause (and relieved laughter), when the women climaxed and finished a minute later.
8. From Paste Magazine:
They do exist and are indeed explicit, but like everything else in this film, they’re incredibly intimate, revealing and essential to the overall tapestry that Kechiche is constructing. Perhaps not since Y Tu Mamá También has a movie’s sex scenes been so integral to story and character development. Charmed but also intimidated by Emma’s maturity and confidence, Adèle enters the relationship at something of a disadvantage, but the sex scenes allow them to gain an equal foothold, their bodies joined together in shared ecstasy. (There’s a reason why they need to be so explicit: We have to believe fully in these two people’s erotic connection, which is palatable, convincing and utterly unadorned.)
9. Other critics have made a point to not focus on the sex scenes. The Times Of London writes:
The extraordinary thing about Blue is the Warmest Colour, Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour study of a young woman’s sexual and emotional journey, is not the electrifying intimacy of the graphic sex scenes. It’s not the courage and commitment of the two actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, who play the lovers Adèle and Emma. It’s the fact that, at the closing point of the story, I realised that not only had I not looked at my watch once, but I could also have happily spent another three hours immersed in this richly detailed and compassionate meditation on love and loss.