Interview: 'Blue is the Warmest Colour' director Abdellatif Kechiche

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Arthur Tam talks to director Abdellatif Kechiche about his Palme d’Or winning film, Blue is the Warmest Colour

Blue is the Warmest Colour is one of the most talked-about films of the year. A lesbian coming-of-age drama, it scooped the Palme d’Or – the highest honour at the Cannes Film Festival – earlier this year, with both actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, becoming the first non-directors ever to hold the prize. They won it alongside French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche, whose two previous movies, Games of Love and Chance (2003) and The Secret of the Grain (2007), both won him Best Director at the César Awards (the French Oscars). And now his three-hour-long flick has a chance for the Best Foreign Film of the year award at the Oscars. It probably won’t end there, either.

The film – originally based on a graphic novel of the same name by author Julie Maroh – follows the deep and complex relationship between lovers Adèle and Emma. Their initial attraction is bound by strong sexual desire, highlighted in torrid bare-all sex scenes (the most controversial lasting seven minutes). But, like all relationships, theirs takes a turn for the worse and audiences are left to absorb the resulting emotional impact.

Recently the film has been subject to a wave of controversy because both leading actresses have complained that Kechiche’s directing methods during shooting were ‘horrible’ and they felt uncomfortable filming the sex scenes. The crew complained as well. Time Out sits with the 52-year-old director as he visits the Hong Kong French Film Festival, which runs until December 12. The film is playing as part of the fest on December 5 – but, before then, he gives us his reactions to the controversy, as well as his thoughts on love, sex and relationships.

At the moment, all anyone is talking about is that seven-minute sex scene. What was your aim with this scene?
I was trying to overcome all the reactionary ideas on love, like the typical categorisations of male and female, as well as different nationalities like Chinese and French or Arabs and Blacks. I don’t like to put these categories in love – it’s a universal feeling because we’re all universal beings. I don’t want to categorise love according to origins or sexual preference. It’s more to do with emotions.

When you read the graphic novel version, did you know how you wanted to adapt it?
The original is a comic, so I found it was more like a summary than a complete story, and it’s more political and educational for youths. For the film I wanted to show the characters finding their own path and exploring how they develop – removing or lessening the whole political agenda that was in the comic. The main difference is that the book sort of defends sexual differences, but instead, my film develops the idea that there are no sexual differences.

We did notice usual common conflicts you find in LGBT films, such as issues of coming out, were cut from the film…
I found the comic was a bit counterproductive. It was specifically set as an LGBT book, with a specific idea of what reaction it wanted to spark. It kind of lost its effect that way. I want people who watch the film not to have in mind all the time that it’s about love between two girls but rather just love itself.

How do you feel about the controversy the film has stirred?
Ten years ago or so, when people saw nudity in art or film, they’d be shocked. But I feel now that you can show nudity in cinemas. The shock it generates is nowhere near as much as it was before. As for the actresses, during the time of the filming, complaints were not expressed. I feel the recent complaints have to do partly with the manipulation of the media. Hopefully the controversy will not overshadow the film.

What’s next for you after this project? This film has received a lot and awards and critical acclaim – how do you think you’ll surpass it?
I have lots of projects coming up but I’m trying to find and decide which to film first. It’s not really a question of performance but more of my passion. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely satisfied.

Blue is the Warmest Colour Category III, 179 mins, showing at AMC Cinema, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, on Thu Dec 5 (see hkfrenchfilmfestival.com for times). General release from Thu Jan 2.

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