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Lesbian Love Story Wins Palme d’Or

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lesbian love story Blue Is the Warmest Color Adèle Exarchopoulos Léa Seydoux
Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos in ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color.’

Lesbian love story Blue Is the Warmest Color wins Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

The 2013 Cannes Film Festival came to a close on Sunday evening. Earlier in the day in Paris, an estimated 150,000 bigots took to the streets to protest the legalization of gay marriage a few days ago in France. Somewhat ironically, in the evening in Cannes, to lengthy and enthusiastic applause, the Palme d’Or went to writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour-long lesbian love story Blue Is the Warmest Color / La Vie d’Adèle.

Kechiche’s film offers a portrayal of the relationship between a 15-year-old high-school student Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and an Older Woman, Emma (twenty-something Léa Seydoux). Prior to the closing ceremony, it had already taken home the International Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize for a film in the Cannes Film Festival’s Official Competition. (See list of winners further below.)

Blue Is the Warmest Color and explicit lesbian sex

Blue is the Warmest Color caused quite a stir among certain sensitive Cannes attendees. Curiously, not so much because of the sexual / romantic relationship between an underage adolescent and a woman in her 20s – the Older Woman would be a district attorney’s dream in a number of countries – but because Kechiche doesn’t refrain from graphic depictions of lesbian sex. You’d think we’re in 1913 – but no, as those anti-gay marriage demonstrations in Paris make clear. This is very much 2013; believe it or not, twelve years after Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Of note: Somewhat surprisingly, this year’s winner of the independently sponsored Queer Palm, given to Cannes Film Festival movies with gay-, lesbian-, transgender- etc.-themed films, was not Blue Is the Warmest Color, but Alain Guiraudie’s erotic gay French thriller Stranger by the Lake.

Also of note, the Cannes Official Competition jury led by U.S. director / producer Steven Spielberg made a point of awarding the Palme d’Or not to Blue Is the Warmest Color itself, but to Abdellatif Kechiche, and leading ladies Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. I should add that the Palme d’Or winner cannot be given any other Official Competition award.

Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or acceptance speech: Praise for the youth of France, Tunisia

In his Palme d’Or acceptance speech, Abdellatif Kechiche initially told the jury, “You made a mistake.” He then apologized for taking his time to get on with his Thank You’s. The director of the three-hour Blue Is the Warmest Color explained, “that’s my pace. I’m sorry.”

Besides paying homage to the late filmmaker Claude Berri, “who helped me to create my path,” Kechiche remarked on the “beautiful youth of France,” with its “spirit of freedom” and desire to “live together.” The Tunisian-born filmmaker then praised “another youth,” that of the Tunisian Revolution, with their desire to “live freely, express themselves freely, and love freely.” (Left unmentioned by Kechiche was France’s far-right youth, a strong presence in the Paris manifestations, and that another cultural revolution seems to be in order in Tunisia: last year, the head of Nessma television station was fined by a Tunis court following a – violently protested – broadcast of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis.)

Once Kechiche was done, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux took turns speaking while fighting back tears.

Photo of Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or-winning lesbian love story Blue Is the Warmest Color: Wild Bunch.

Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color Lea Seydoux
Léa Seydoux, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Adèle Exarchopoulos at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival awards ceremony

Blue Is the Warmest Color: Oscars? Césars? European Film Awards?

Both Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, director-co-screenwriter Abdellatif Kechiche, and Blue Is the Warmest Color itself are all shoo-ins for the 2014 Césars and near-shoo-ins for the European Film Awards. Kechiche has already won two Best Director / Best Screenplay / Best Film Césars: for Games of Love and Chance (2003) and The Secret of the Grain (2007, produced by Claude Berri). Even so, he has never been shortlisted for the European Film Awards; yet, at the very least one nomination – Best European Film, Best Director, or Best Screenplay – is all but guaranteed later this year.

Needless to say, at this stage it’s impossible to know if Blue Is the Warmest Color will be France’s submission for the 2014 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. In case Kechiche’s NC-17 rating-bound lesbian love story is selected, that country’s film commission will be taking a major chance, as sexually explicit (or even quasi-explicit) movies – no matter how widely acclaimed – almost invariably fare poorly with the quite conservative Academy membership (and at the Victorian American box office). Examples include Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education, starring Gael García Bernal; Cannes jury member Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Wei Tang; and Steve McQueen’s Shame, starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, all of which/whom were bypassed by the Academy. (Both Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, which earned Michelle Williams a Best Actress nomination, and Stephen Daldry’s The Reader, a multiple Academy Award nominee that earned Kate Winslet the 2008 Best Actress Oscar, were released with an R rating.)

In fact, a more likely French submission for the Academy Awards would be Asghar Farhadi’s divorce drama The Past / Le Passé, starring Tahar Rahim and this year’s Cannes Best Actress winner Bérénice Bejo. After all, both Farhadi and Bejo have been nominated for Academy Awards, with the former’s A Separation winning in the Best Foreign Language Film category in early 2012. That same year, Bejo was a Best Supporting Actress contender for Michel Hazanavicius’ eventual Best Picture winner The Artist. And let’s not forget that Tahar Rahim is the star of Jacques Audiard’s Best Foreign Language Film nominee A Prophet.

Blue Is the Warmest Color: English-language title

The “blue” in the English-language title Blue Is the Warmest Color refers to the hair color of Lea Seydoux’s character, Emma. The character’s blue dye is also referenced in the original French title of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel on which the film is based, Le Bleu est une couleur chaude (literally, “Blue Is a Warm Color”). The original French title of Abdellatif Kechiche’s film translates as “The Life of Adèle,” sometimes with the subtitle: “Chapters 1 and 2″.

Blue Is the Warmest Color cast

Besides Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, the Blue Is the Warmest Color cast includes Jeremie Laheurte, Catherine Salée, Aurélien Recoing, and Sandor Funtek. Abdellatif Kechiche co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Ghalia Lacroix (also the film’s co-editor), whom Kechiche referred to as his “soulmate” during his Palme d’Or acceptance speech.

Blue Is the Warmest Color Lea Seydoux posterLéa Seydoux as the blue-haired Emma in the Blue Is the Warmest Color poster

Blue Is the Warmest Color release in the United States

Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, will be released in the United States via IFC Films’ Sundance Selects. As yet no date has been set, but it’ll quite possibly be some time during awards season in the fall. Distributed by IFC Films, Kechiche’s César-winning The Secret of the Grain took in a paltry $86,356 following its December 2008 North American release.

Last year, IFC Films also nabbed the rights to another Cannes Film Festival entry, Walter SallesOn the Road. Two things happened when Salles’ movie adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel hit North American shores: the film lost about 20 minutes of its running time and, despite its prestigious subject matter / source novel and stellar cast (Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Amy Adams), On the Road was bypassed throughout awards season and failed to be shortlisted for a single Academy Award.

By the way, Sundance Selects has also acquired the North American rights to Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize winner Like Father, Like Son. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Nobody Knows), the film chronicles the dismay of two different sets of parents who discover that their 6-year-old sons were switched at birth. In the words of the Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan, Kore-eda “is not only a master at working with children, he is an innately empathetic director with an exquisitely natural style, and this film manages to be sweet and gentle while asking pointed questions about the nature of family.”

Blue Is the Warmest Color release date in France

As La Vie d’Adèle, Blue Is the Warmest Color opens in France on October 9. As indicated in the previous post, the film’s English-language title better reflects the French title of the graphic novel on which the movie is based.

Now, stop and consider the fact that a graphic novel, when transferred to the big screen, can result in something other than The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers, or Thor: The Dark World. I’m not saying those movies are (or will be) necessarily bad; just that graphic novels offer mostly untapped possibilities that reach way beyond the costumed-superhero genre.

Daring filmmaking vs. the lowest common denominator

A bit of reality check: While the Cannes Film Festival awards ceremony was taking place, featuring – quite literally – the “likes” of jury members Steven Spielberg, Cristian Mungiu, Ang Lee, Naomi Kawase, Nicole Kidman, Lynne Ramsay, Vidya Balan, and Daniel Auteuil, moviegoers around the world were flocking to see product universes away from Blue Is the Warmest Color, Like Father, Like Son – or any of this year’s Cannes winners.

Justin Lin’s testosterone-packed, neuron-deficient Fast & Furious 6, featuring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Dwayne Johnson, has raked up $275.5 million at the worldwide box office after only a handful of days in most territories. The number two movie at the North American box office this Memorial Day weekend was none other than Todd Phillips’ braindead-on-arrival The Hangover Part III, featuring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Justin Bartha, and which grossed an estimated $54.2 million.

All Cannes Film Festival 2013 winners combined will be lucky – immeasurably lucky – if they manage to earn during their entire worldwide run half of what Fast & Furious 6 earned during its first week.

Moral of the story: If movies were made only to please the world’s discerning (joke) moviegoers, adult – or “arthouse” – filmmaking would be all but dead. However imperfect, film festivals such as the one in Cannes serve to keep alive that increasingly marginalized segment of the film industry.

Paul Newman Joanne Woodward Cannes Film Festival posterPaul Newman and Joanne Woodward in Cannes Film Festival poster

Cannes Film Festival winners

The 2013 Cannes Film Festival came to a close on Sunday evening. Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, about the love affair between a woman in her 20s and another in her teens, took home the Palme d’Or.

Palme d’Or: Blue Is the Warmest Color / La Vie d’Adèle by Abdellatif Kechiche (Note: the jury made a point of giving the Palme d’Or to Kechiche and the film’s two leading ladies, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux)

Grand Prix: Inside Llewyn Davis by Joel and Ethan Coen

Jury Prize: Like Father, Like Son by Kore-eda Hirokazu

Best Director: Amat Escalante for Heli

Best Actress: Bérénice Bejo for Asghar Farhadi’s The Past / Le Passé

Best Actor: Bruce Dern for Alexander Payne’s Nebraska

Best Screenplay: Jia Zhangke for A Touch of Sin

Camera d’or: Ilo Ilo by Anthony Cheng

Palme d’Or for Best Short Film: Safe by Moon Byoung-gon

Special Mention for Short Film: Whale Valley / Hvalfjordur by Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson

Cannes 2013 jury and presenters

The 2013 Cannes Film Festival jury was composed of president Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Cristian Mungiu, Lynne Ramsay, Vidya Balan, Naomi Kawase, Christoph Waltz, and Daniel Auteuil.

Among the Cannes 2013 award presenters were Uma Thurman, Zhang Ziyi, and veteran Hollywood star Kim Novak, who was at the Croisette this year for a screening of the restored print of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Vertigo (1958). Audrey Tautou was the Mistress of Ceremonies.

Cannes 2013 ‘losers’

Notably absent from the roster of Cannes 2013 award winners were Michael Douglas and Matt Damon for their portrayals of bejeweled entertainer Liberace and his lover in Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra – which also failed to take home the Queer Palm, given to Cannes Film Festival movies with gay-, lesbian-, etc.-themed films. Curiously, this year’s winner was not Blue Is the Warmest Color, but Alain Guiraudie’s erotic gay French thriller Stranger by the Lake.

Besides Behind the Candelabra, also going home empty-handed were François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur, and James Gray’s The Immigrant.

Besides Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, others who failed to take home Cannes’ acting prizes were Tahar Rahim for The Past; Will Forte for Nebraska; Jeremy Renner, Marion Cotillard, and Joaquin Phoenix for The Immigrant; and Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric for Venus in Fur.

Cannes 2012 winners

Last year’s Palme d’Or winner was Michael Haneke’s Amour, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, and Isabelle Huppert. Amour went on to win the European Film Award and the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, among dozens of other film awards.

Cannes’ 2012 Best Actress winners were Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur for Beyond the Hills, while the Best Actor award went to Mads Mikkelsen for The Hunt. Matteo Garrone’s Reality won the Grand Prix, Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share won the Jury Prize, Carlos Reygadas was the Best Director for Post Tenebras Lux, and Cristian Mungiu won Best Screenplay for Beyond the Hills.

Image of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward during the making of Melville Shavelson’s 1963 romantic comedy A New Kind of Love / 2013 Cannes Film Festival poster: Cannes Film Festival.

Léa Seydoux as the blue-haired Emma in the Blue Is the Warmest Color poster: Wild Bunch

Screengrab of Léa Seydoux, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Adèle Exarchopoulos sharing the Blue Is the Warmest Color Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival awards ceremony: Via Canal+

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LORE was a German / Australian co-production, much like AMOUR was an Austrian / German / French co-production (submitted by Austria, since France had THE INTOUCHABLES). THE PAST is a French production. Producer, cast, and most technical personnel are French. It wouldn’t “have” to go through Iran. In fact, if it went through Iran, that would be a stretch. Not impossible, but a stretch all the same. Sort of like considering PACIFIC RIM a Mexican movie because it was directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro.


Farhadi’s film would have to go thru Iran, not France. In the same way the Cate Shortland’s LORE went via Australia and not Germany.


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