When Abdellatif Kechiche chose to adapt Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Blue Is the Warmest Colour to the screen no one, including the filmmaker himself, could have anticipated the tidal wave of press — both good and bad — that awaited the film’s release.
The film, which won the Grand Prix for Kechiche, along with his two leading actors, at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, was plagued with controversy from the moment it premiered. The same day the film screened at Cannes, the French Film Union (Spiac-CGT) released a statement condemning the gruelling working conditions on the set and noting a violation of labour codes (they also described the atmosphere of the shoot as “bullying”).
Then Maroh posted a long piece on her blog criticizing the lesbian sex scenes in the film as ridiculous and exploitive, as well as pointing out that no lesbians were involved in the making of the film in any way, shape or form. If that weren’t enough, while doing a media tour in the US, the two lead actors, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos were forthright about how “horrible” the shooting was. They said Kechiche made their lives a living nightmare by requesting endless takes. Seydoux went as far as to state that she felt as exploited as a prostitute for having to film a graphic 10-minute sex scene.
A few weeks before the film’s commercial release, Kechiche said that the film’s reputation “has been soiled” and that it should never be released. A bitter back and forth between the actors and the director followed, which culminated in an open letter in a French newspaper in which Kechiche threatened Seydoux with a lawsuit.
In the context of this public, and very bitter, discourse it would sound ludicrous to state that Blue Is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’ Adèle) is a masterful, nuanced work of art about love, yet it is. Blue Is the Warmest Colour is a subtle character study about a young woman’s coming of age, and coming out of the closet, that Steven Spielberg called one of the great love stories of all time.
At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Kechiche, in an interview with Daily Xtra, was thoughtful and chose his words carefully, describing his work as a “movie that the main theme is about romantic passion and in that you have the rupture of the breaking of the love.”
Kechiche quickly dismissed Maroh’s criticisms of the same-sex scene, noting he'd had an earlier interview with a lesbian journalist who told him she recognized herself in those scenes. And, he added, with an irritated laugh, “I think she had way more experience than Julie Maroh.”
One can only hope that audiences will ignore the circus surrounding the film and allow themselves to experience the sensual film in a quiet movie theatre.
Read more coverage of Blue Is the Warmest Colour.
Blue Is the Warmest Colour opens in Toronto and Vancouver on Nov 8 and in Ottawa on Nov 15.