Should allegations of mistreatment or otherwise scarring experiences shade our perception of the artistic work created? Really this is another version of the question of does the end justify the means. This is a challenging question for me as many films that I cherish have had these shadows cast over them. Brooke Shields has voiced some regrets regarding her role in the film Pretty Baby, though this seems directed more toward her mother’s role as guardian than the filmmakers, a film in which she delivers a stunning performance in a challenging and rich film. Lars von Trier has drawn the ire of multiple of his leading ladies, especially Bjork, yet he has gotten some of the best female performances, in rich female roles, of the past two decades.
Blue Is The Warmest Color is another film where the female leads, Adele Exarchopoulos (Adele) and Lea Seydoux (Emma) have expressed angst over the director Abdellatif Kechiche’s manner on the film. In the same right, Adele in particular is a dynamic female character. I can’t speak to the way contractual bindings may have led the actresses to feel coerced in their role here, I can only really judge the merit of what is on screen. I don’t hesitate to say that the film features a great performance from Exarchopoulos and is a great character study, though the film itself is a bit more flawed.
Having the fortune of the acquaintance of a few lesbians, one thing that stands true is that they aren’t that much different from heterosexual men in the sense that they can be powerfully controlled by lust for women, even to the point of objectifying certain physical attributes. With a male director at the helm, it would be easy to write off some of the lingering glances as male gaze, but often the lens is giving the perspective of one of the characters, and this female gaze feels authentic. The focus of the gaze might be those body parts that we are trained to associate as sexual, but they can be so much more. Notable to me is the focus in a few places on Adele’s mouth and the prominent front teeth that help lend a distinctive look to Exarchopoulos. The film might just contain the most erotic shot of straightforward mastication in cinema history.
Of course, a lot of attention has been given to the theoretically more overtly erotic content. There are a number of fairly explicit sex scenes. I have absolutely no objections to the length or explicitness, but did hit a point of problem in that they just didn’t convey an authenticity or genuine eroticness. For scenes where the characters are supposed to be really turned on and into it, I kind of want the scene to get me really into it. This should be a power of cinema that surpasses orientation because you are invested in the character. What is offered in BitWC feels too elaborate (and slaphappy) to really get that feeling. In this way, because the scenes don’t really hold up, I do feel for the actresses.
Oddly, the best compliment I can offer BitWC is that I was greatly distracted for most of it. Its portrait of the sparking of adolescent desires, of sexual discovery, was so strong that I couldn’t help thinking of my own life, of those women who intoxicate me the way Emma does Adele. The exuberance of Adele really speaks to the need to live life a bit on the edge, take a risk for those desires, even if it can leave you a blubbering mess (and this film has a very visceral moistness in almost every conceivable way). The film goes on too long (though there aren’t many specific scenes I could offer up as worth cutting) and a few moments go a bit too big, but ultimately this is powerful cinema that has been produced, even with the various concerns. Whether their are lessons to be learned here on the need to protect actresses on the set, I hope the actresses can appreciate that they did play a vital role in producing a resonant piece of cinematic art. It might not justify everything that happened, but hopefully it is of some solace.