Cannes: Critics Debate Festival Highs and Lows
PETER DEBRUGE: Even without Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” in competition, it was a pervy, provocative year for Cannes, which awarded its top prize to Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” — a blue movie, in the old-fashioned sense, and one of two films in this year’s fest (the other being Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic, “Behind the Candelabra”) where underage gay characters are seduced and abandoned by more seasoned same-sex lovers.
It’s a long, literal-minded coming-of-age/coming-out tale whose extended unsimulated sex scenes seem to have delighted straight film critics, vocally gaga just a few days earlier over Francois Ozon’s teen-hooker romp “Young & Beautiful.” Sexual provocation seems too easy these days, and watching Kechiche’s all-in-closeup character portrait, I was left craving the laser insight of Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past,” which strips its characters on an emotional level instead.
SCOTT FOUNDAS: I was glad to hear jury president Steven Spielberg say at the post-awards press conference that the jury had left politics — sexual or otherwise — out of their deliberations, and I think it’s selling Kechiche’s film more than a bit short to chalk up its rapturous reception here (by people gay, straight and otherwise) to a case of sex selling and everyone buying. As a longtime admirer of Kechiche’s work — in my programming days at Lincoln Center, I screened his debut feature “It’s Voltaire’s Fault” and his recent “Black Venus,” both never released in the U.S. — I was enthralled by “Blue” (aka “La Vie d’Adele: Chapitres 1 et 2″) from its very first scenes, long before anyone takes his or her clothes off.
In his equally remarkable “L’esquive,” Kechiche followed a group of teenagers from the suburban Paris housing projects as they discovered parallels between their own lives and those of their characters in a school production of Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux’s 18th-century play “Games of Love and Chance,” and in “Blue,” Kechiche again has Marivaux on the brain, putting the writer’s unfinished novel “La Vie de Marianne” in his main character’s hands and allowing her to find herself in it. It’s a shame, I think, that people have been so busy talking and writing about the sex scenes in the movie that they largely haven’t even begun to unpack the many, many artistic and literary references Kechiche layers throughout “Blue,” not to show how smart he is, but to show his belief in the lasting power of great art and how it can touch our lives — art, if I may be so bold, like this very film.
JUSTIN CHANG: I’d only add that, no less than Asghar Farhadi, Kechiche strips his characters bare on an emotional level, too. What’s marvelous about the sex scenes in “Blue” is not that they’re so explicit (although they are certainly that), but that their explicitness is perfectly consistent — thematically and stylistically — with the bold, inquisitive nature of Kechiche’s filmmaking. He is a director innately fascinated by all forms of human exchange — or human intercourse, if you will — whether it’s the act of sharing a meal or having impassioned bull sessions about Tiresias. To have skimped on sex in a movie so minutely attuned to the rhythms and textures of communication would have been uncharacteristically coy, not to mention dishonest.