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Better to be called paranoid than to be called a tyrant
October 25, 2013 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Abdellatif Kechiche, whose film La Vie d’Adèle / Blue is the Warmest Color recently won the 2013 Palmes d'Or at Cannes, has "let loose everything he has on his heart" (lâche tout ce qu’il a sur le cœur) in a long text submitted to the French magazine Rue89 (in French; moderately good English translation here).

The movie, based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, has garnered both raves and critiques. Julie Maroh also published an essay about her conflicted feelings about the movie.

Abdellatif's text lists numerous examples of "those who want to destroy La Vie d’Adèle." Among the most notable:

- Critical articles in Le Monde (French);
- A polemic by the film workers' union calling out the director for "revolting and unacceptable acts" (des faits révoltants et inacceptables) (English text here); and
- An interview with the actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in the Daily Beast about some hellish conditions on the set.

The editors of Rue 89 warned Kechiche of hte risk of being considered paranoid if the letter were published ( Nous l’avons averti du risque d’être traité de « parano »). .His response: "Good! That is always better than to be considered a tyrant or a despot ... at least it's a recongized malady." ( « Très bien ! Cela vaut toujours mieux que les “tyran” ou “despote” auxquels j’ai eu droit, au moins c’est une maladie répertoriée. »)

previously: That was what was missing on the set. Lesbians.
posted by kanewai (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's always interesting when this sort of thing happens. A film takes so long to make. It's a laborious process. If the crew/actors felt the way they felt, and if the conditions were so poor, then why did they slog through the shoot (for an epic 3-hour film), doing all manner of long-form sex scenes, including 69'ing and all the rest, then gladly accept Palme d'Or awards and accolades from near and far? Only now when the film is set to open in limited release worldwide have they decided to denounce the thing and chastise the director? They knew well before agreeing to star in the film that the director is highly demanding and something of a control freak. They now have the honor of being the first actresses to share the coveted Palme d'Or with this director (an unorthodox move by Spielberg.) Everything I've read from the actresses previous to the controversy stated the film was very difficult and even painful to make but also fun and extremely rewarding. Shelly Duvall and Scatman Crothers would've said the same of making The Shining.

Can't wait to see this film.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:40 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]




Better to be called paranoid than to be called a tyrant

Can we just add Abdellatif Kechiche to the already well-populated category of people who qualify for both titles?
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:47 PM on October 25, 2013


Maroh's complaints seem to be at bottom, about losing creative control in ways and to a degree she didn't anticipate. The sex scene controversy is just the biggest impact vehicle for the more fundamental issue for her
posted by Bwithh at 4:31 PM on October 25, 2013


I don't think Maroh feels she lost creative control in any unanticipated way. After all, she writes, "I don't see the movie as a betrayal. When it comes to adapting something, I believe that the notion of betrayal should be reconsidered. I lost the control of my book as soon as I gave it away to be read. It's an object meant to be handled, felt, interpreted. Kechiche went through the same process as any other reader — he entered it and identified in a unique way. As the author, I totally lose my control on that, and it would have never crossed my mind to wait for Kechiche to go in any particular direction, since he made it his own, from a story that didn't belong to me as soon as it was sold in a bookstore."

I think what she didn't anticipate was how his interpretation would make her feel — how seeing the lesbian love story as interpreted by a heterosexual male director (not to mention two heterosexual female actresses) would make it seem silly to those who know and perhaps unrealistically (and weirdly) titillating to those who don't. Also his weird take on the sacred female orgasm blah blah blah. So I don't think she's complaining about losing creative control, because that was a given. Rather, she's expressing discomfort with Kechiche's interpretation of the material. I think her complaints are way more reasonable and evenhanded than she's generally been given credit for.

I think Manohla Dargis's NYT essay is really good — a reasonable, evenhanded, and fundamentally feminist approach to the film.
posted by Mothlight at 5:36 PM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Instead of "seeing the lesbian love story as interpreted by a heterosexual male director" I should have said "seeing explicit simulated lesbian sex as directed by a heterosexual male" or something like that. I don't think she believes the entire film is silly — just the way Kechiche chose to portray the physical consummation of the characters' love (and, maybe to a lesser degree, his take on the female orgasm).
posted by Mothlight at 5:38 PM on October 25, 2013


agreed, Mothlight. i was also disappointed to see how much léa seydoux emphasized that they used prosthetic vulvas - it just makes that whole straight dude directs two straight women in a lesbian scene originally written by a lesbian all that more ugh.
posted by nadawi at 5:45 PM on October 25, 2013


explicit simulated lesbian sex as directed by a heterosexual male

Even that seems too tame a label for 10+ minutes of what strikes me as porn-informed indulgence. (highly NSFW).

Though I am sure it is all terribly tasteful in context.
posted by seraphine at 6:38 PM on October 25, 2013


Um, wow. Haven't seen the film yet but that's not what I was expecting. Huh. (Animated GIF as film criticism! Who knew?)

I am hearing that the longest scene is only about seven minutes long, rather than the oft-cited 10, for whatever that's worth. And the film is three hours. I'm really curious how it all plays.
posted by Mothlight at 8:50 PM on October 25, 2013


Oh wow. This director appears to have a God complex, an entitlement issue or a mental health issue writ large. Possibly all three. And the seven minute sex scene... holy WTF. I'm not even sure that "as directed by a heterosexual male" is what that is, since according to the straight actresses, they received no direction at all for the entire 10 days it took to shoot. It's more like hetero gaze than male gaze or something.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:56 PM on October 25, 2013


I keep feeling like there's some key factual or emotional detail that we're not getting. The story feels very elliptical.

Either way, this guy is not the first megalomaniacal film director, and he won't be the last.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:07 PM on October 25, 2013


There's a nice interview with Adèle in the Guardian today, she seems to have toned down her criticism, nothing like a crazy rant to intimidate such a young actress.
posted by ellieBOA at 3:58 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the crew/actors felt the way they felt, and if the conditions were so poor, then why did they slog through the shoot (for an epic 3-hour film), doing all manner of long-form sex scenes, including 69'ing and all the rest, then gladly accept Palme d'Or awards and accolades from near and far? Only now when the film is set to open in limited release worldwide have they decided to denounce the thing and chastise the director.

Because that's apparently how it is done in France: you sign a contract and the director feels he owns you. You don't have the same rights as you would here in America, at least according to the actresses. i have no reason to doubt them, and if even half of what they say is true, it is disgusting the way these women were treated. This man ran hundreds of takes of the most incidental of scenes, threw tantrums (and the camera!) when the women so much as dared to laugh during one take...here's an excerpt of the kind of stuff he had them doing:

She was really hitting me. And once she was hitting me, there were people there screaming, “Hit her!” and she didn’t want to hit me, so she’d say sorry with her eyes and then hit me really hard.

Léa: [Kechiche] shot with three cameras, so the fight scene was a one-hour continuous take. And during the shooting, I had to push her out of a glass door and scream, “Now go away!” and [Adèle] slapped the door and cut herself and was bleeding everywhere and crying with her nose running, and then after, [Kechiche] said, “No, we’re not finished. We’re doing it again.”

It’s funny that you mention the runny nose, because watching the scene with you two in the diner, I was really worried that the stream of snot was going to go into your mouth.

Adèle: She was trying to calm me, because we shot so many intense scenes and he only kept like 10 percent of the film. It’s nothing compared to what we did. And in that scene, she tried to stop my nose from running and [Kechiche] screamed, “No! Kiss her! Lick her snot!”


These women were made to suffer to create this art. The process may ultimately have been cathartic for them but that does not excuse the abuse they went through. That they are glad it is done, never want to do it again and also take some pride in the end result of their naked vulnerability is not at all contradictory to me. Why should they not accept the accolades that came from being put through the wringer? Why shouldn't they speak up about the abuse they went through?
posted by misha at 7:49 PM on October 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Trouble With ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ - Manohla Dargis, The New York Times.
posted by seraphine at 10:44 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why shouldn't they speak up about the abuse they went through?

Any artist who doesn't suffer for their work is doing something wrong. Maybe the director IS an asshole, and they have every right not to work with him again. So, great. It could very well be the pinnacle of their acting careers. Who knows?
posted by ReeMonster at 10:15 AM on October 27, 2013


Any artist who doesn't suffer for their work is doing something wrong.

That's the kind of statement that sounds great without context--because we are all familiar with the trope of the suffering artist--but falls apart under scrutiny. Artists may suffer to master their craft, they may channel their past emotional or physical pain into their pieces and thus, yes, their suffering is reflected in their art.

But it is not necessary nor required that artists suffer through each work of creation for their contributions to be worthwhile. That the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel was a long and arduous process that took a physical toll on Michelangelo I have no doubt, but that does not mean that his other works are lacking because he wasn't ruining his spine by lying on his back on a scaffold when he made them.

I'd also argue that there is a difference between making an artistic choice to tear down the social masks we all wear and offer up your own naked vulnerability for an audience and what happened here. It is fine, even admirable, to choose to push beyond your comfortable limits to bare your soul.

That is quite different, though, from being subjected to sadistic power control games by a megalomaniac who has a vision of what your soul ought to look like, and would, if only you had the depth of character to accept my evil genius, so DANCE, DANCE FOR ME PUPPETS! MWAHAHAHAHA!
posted by misha at 10:45 AM on October 28, 2013


I just saw this today. It strikes me as a very honest film in the way the characters in it interact and very much worth seeing for that.

As for the sex scenes, I say that it is about time that sexuality was represented within a film in a way that reflects the weight that sex actually has in relationships. In this it seemed more authentic than any impressionistic treatment of sex in cinema that I can think of. If the author of the graphic novel which the film was based on finds the scenes disagreeable, I can only guess that part of that may have to do with an artistic divergence between the stories: at least in the film, the sexual aspect of the relationship is commented on by the characters as being unlike their experiences with other partners, so it is probably not to wonder at that someone in the audience might find it personally unconvincing.

Also, this is as good a place as any to remark once more that graphic violence of even the most explicit sort regularly passes without comment in cinema, but graphic sex (which despite it all in this case remains edited and artistic) will provoke controversy and secure an NC17 rating.
posted by millions at 8:58 PM on November 3, 2013


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