The powerful French drama "Blue Is the Warmest Color" has garnered a slew of accolades, but also considerable controversy for its bold depiction of lesbian love. Now the film's lead actresses are adding fuel to the fire, alleging director Abdellatif Kechiche's behavior during filming was borderline abusive.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, 19-year-old Adèle Exarchopoulos and 28-year-old Léa Seydoux, who were in the United States for the movie's American debut at the Telluride Film Festival, spoke at length about the often-difficult process of making the film, and painted a highly unflattering portrait of Kechiche.
"Blue Is the Warmest Color" follows two young women who meet by chance, and soon discover they're in love. The film follows the relationship from first love to eventual disillusionment.
According to Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, the crucial lovemaking scene in "Blue Is the Warmest Color," which runs ten minutes, took ten full days to shoot, and was all the more awkward to film since the actresses barely knew one another at the time.
"After the walk-by [where the characters meet], it’s the first scene that we really shot together, so it was, 'Hello!'" Exarchopoulos said.
"We spent 10 days on just that one scene," Seydoux said. "It wasn’t like, 'OK, today we’re going to shoot the sex scene!' It was 10 days."
"He warned us that we had to trust him—blind trust—and give a lot of ourselves. He was making a movie about passion, so he wanted to have sex scenes, but without choreography—more like special sex scenes," Exarchopoulos explained. "He told us he didn’t want to hide the character’s sexuality because it’s an important part of every relationship. So he asked me if I was ready to make it, and I said, 'Yeah, of course!' because I’m young and pretty new to cinema. But once we were on the shoot, I realized that he really wanted us to give him everything. Most people don’t even dare to ask the things that he did, and they’re more respectful—you get reassured during sex scenes, and they’re choreographed, which desexualizes the act."
Even more difficult was a fight scene between the two actresses. Seydoux was supposed to slap Exarchopoulos, and they say Kechiche spent an hour goading Seydoux into a more convincingly violent performance – one that eventually drew blood.
"She was really hitting me," Exarchopoulos said. "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."
"[Kechiche] shot with three cameras, so the fight scene was a one-hour continuous take," Seydoux said. "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.'"
Even a simple scene in which the two actresses pass on the street proved to be a grueling experience. "In the first scene where we cross paths and it’s love at first sight, it’s only about thirty seconds long, but we spent the whole day shooting it – over 100 takes," Seydoux said. "By the end of it, I remember I was dizzy and couldn’t even sit. And by the end of it, [Kechiche] burst into a rage because after 100 takes I walked by Adele and laughed a little bit, because we had been walking by each other doing this stare-down scene all day. It was so, so funny. And [Kechiche] became so crazy that he picked up the little monitor he was viewing it through and threw it into the street, screaming, 'I can’t work under these conditions!'"
Making "Blue Is the Warmest Color" was a challenge, but so far the film has been embraced by critics for its moving and honest portrayal of young love. The film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the festival's grand prize, with the jury awarding the honors to Exarchopoulos and Seydoux as well as director Kechiche. Jordan Mintzer of the Hollywood Reporter said of the movie, "It’s a passionate, poignantly handled love story which, despite an unhinged 3-hour running time, is held together by phenomenal turns from Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, in what is clearly a breakout performance." And Robbie Collin of the London Telegraph raved, "It is an extraordinary, prolonged popping-candy explosion of pleasure, sadness, anger, lust and hope."
Despite the difficult shoot, Exarchopoulos had cautious praise for her director. "[Kechiche] is a genius, but he’s tortured," Exarchopoulos said. "We wanted to give everything we have, but sometimes there was a kind of manipulation, which was hard to handle. But it was a good learning experience for me, as an actor."
But don't expect Kechiche's stars to appear in his next film. When asked if they would work with him again, Seydoux simply replied, "Never." Exarchopoulos, just a bit more diplomatic, said, "I don't think so."
Yahoo Movies reached out to Wild Bunch, the French production company behind "Blue Is the Warmest Color," for a statement on Exarchopoulos and Seydoux's allegations. They had no comment. Yahoo also contacted IFC Films and Sundance Selects, who will be distributing "Blue Is The Warmest Color" in the United States. They have yet to respond.
'Blue Is the Warmest Color' has a special presentation this week at the Toronto Film Festival and will be released domestically (with an NC-17 rating) on October 25.