Tunisia-born Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour won the Palm d’Or at Cannes last May, and this will be one of the most sought after movies at the upcoming Mumbai Film Festival (Oct 17-24). And not just because it clinched one of the world’s most coveted prizes. It will travel to Mumbai in a trail of controversy that has in recent weeks reached a crescendo, almost as provocative as the movie itself.
The past weeks have seen a war of words between Kechiche and one of the two stars, Lea Seydoux, in Blue is the Warmest Colour. In just about four months after the big night at Cannes when Kechiche and Seydoux as well as the other actress, Adele Exarchopoulos, hugged one another and planted kisses, relationships have soured beyond belief.
In an interview to a French magazine, the 52-year-old director, settled in France for a long time, went to the extent of saying that the film should not be released. “It’s been too tarnished. The Palme d’Or was a fleeting instant of happiness; since then, I’ve felt humiliated, dishonoured, rejected – as if I’m cursed”, he lamented.
Kechiche’s remarks come in the wake of serious allegations that he mistreated his cast and crew during the movie shoot. Seydoux described her experience on the set as terrible, and referred to one incident when Kechiche lost his temper after 100 takes of the same scene, a violent fight, and demanded that the actresses carry on even though Exarchopoulos was bleeding.
Also, the author of the Gallic novel on which the film is based, Julie Maroh, has accused the helmer of turning the movie into pornography. She was referring to the graphic scenes of lesbian love in the celluloid work.
In an angry outburst, Kechiche retorted by saying that Seydoux (one of France’s most sought-after actresses and granddaughter of the CEO of major French production company, Pathé ) would not have dared to say such things had she not been born into a rich family. Seydoux’s complaints are “worse than biting the hand that feeds you; they show a lack of respect for a profession I consider sacred”, the helmer blasted.
In perhaps the most rabble-rousing assessment of the events, one American critic averred that Kechiche’s fury at Seydoux indicated racial tension. “I do think you need to factor in the politics of a Tunisian director being attacked by a white French aristocrat,” Sam Adams, a top editor at the popular movie website, Indiewire, tweeted.
In fact, Adams' reading of the spat finds an echo in some of Kechiche’s statements. “Léa Seydoux is part of a system that wants nothing to do with me,” the auteur told journalists in Los Angeles in early September.
Film writers and critics, while being puzzled over the change from love and affection at Cannes to resentment and rancour later, are worried that this bitter buzz may cloud the movie's American release on October 25.
“It's unprecedented for a film with so much advance acclaim to have its reception sabotaged by the rancour of its creative team,” a critic noted. “It's a long work in a foreign language with controversial content, and some people who are on the fence may take all the negative noise as permission to skip it. What's particularly damaging is that, because the movie is sexually explicit, it was important to sell the idea that nobody involved felt hurt, exploited or mistreated. That battle is pretty much lost.”
This seems all the more regrettable because the U.S. distributor is planning Oscar campaigns for Exarchopoulos and Seydoux in the lead and supporting actress categories, respectively.