Lesbian Drama Takes Top Prize at Cannes
By Andrew Belonsky
There are three things you'll hear about Blue is the Warmest Color's big Cannes win. One is how unusual it is for a director, in this case French-Tunisian Abdellatif Kechiche, and actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, to share the Palme d'Or, which all three did this weekend. The second is that the film, about two girls discovering their sexuality, is both long, nearly three hours, and chock full of "explicit" or "raw" or "graphic" lesbian sex scenes. Having not yet seen the film, it's impossible to say what constitutes as "explicit" but it will be fun to find out.
The third thing you'll hear about Blue is the debate over whether its big win was political. This is only natural. Considering the movie's "explicit" lesbian narrative and the international debate over marriage equality, there's no way reporters, those observers of this wacky world, wouldn't make this connection. This conflation's even more tempting because Cannes is in France, France just passed marriage equality, and anti-gay rallies there have consistently turned violent, as they did this very weekend, just as Blue is the Warmest Color won in Cannes, in France. There's simply no way the two topics wouldn't come together like lovers, but not young ones.
Thus, as police arrested an estimated 300 anti-gay activists, the French paper La Liberation wrote, "After long weeks punctuated by outbursts of homophobic gay marriage debates, Blue is the Warmest Color looks directly at its two young heroines not as an anomaly or a curiosity but as a passion taking seed in eternal love" and said the film was "in touch" with the nation's zeitgeist. Festival director Thierry Fremaux meanwhile told the press,"Everyone who is against same-sex marriage or love between two people of the same sex must see the film."
But Cannes Jury President Steven Spielberg insists politics played no role. "Politics was not in the room with us; We just all felt (this) was a profound love story," he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "The issue of gay marriage is one that many brave states in America are resolving in a way that suits all of us that are in favor of gay marriage. But I think actually this film carries a very strong message, a very positive message." And fellow juror Lynne Ramsay, a Scottish director, told THR that the film "went beyond" both politics and gender. "It was a love affair that everyone can identify with," she said.
Within this debate lies the implication that Blue's win would be diminished if the jurors were swayed by non-fiction concerns. But is that true? Aren't films meant to reflect and refract our real world? Aside from those (often American) made simply to razzle and dazzle and offer mindless escaping -- Fast and Furious franchise, I'm looking at you -- films are artistic expressions that exist in and draw inspiration from the world. Even Night of the Living Dead was a commentary on consumer culture. Just because politics didn't necessarily inform the jury's ultimate decision, doesn't it automatically play a role in this film's overall conception and reception, whether credited or not?