Experimentations with both acting and directing, long hours on and off screen, uncompromising takes and exhaustive filming techniques are only a few of the characteristics that have marked Abdellatif Kechiche’s pursuit of excellence. The Palme d’Or award, which he won for his ambitious three-hour drama Blue Is The Warmest Colour at the 2013 Cannes Festival, has not only sealed his reputation as a charismatic filmmaker, but also as one to fire up discussion on everything from cinematic freedom of expression in North Africa to explicit depictions of lesbian sex in French cinema.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour, a youthful romance with far more complex sexual, social and existentialist nuances, is only the fifth in Kechiche’s fairly recent directorial adventures. Yet, his cinematic style has already developed a strong core and identity, which never strays too far from his roots, as a young Tunisian who had to start over in France. From his debut Blame It On Voltaire (2000), all the way through Games of Love and Chance (2003), The Secret of the Grain (2007) and Black Venus (2010), the Franco-Tunisian director has been gradually building up his respected profile, increasingly collecting cinematic awards such as the César and FIPRESCI.
Frequently played by amateur actors, his protagonists are recruited to breathe life into a cinema that is natural and beautiful, a sort of fiction that is inspired by and closely attached to everyday life. Kechiche’s Beur Cinema (a term borrowed by the French slang for Arab) bravely and consistently fights for social equality and justice. The protagonist of The Secret of the Grain, a 60-year-old divorcee from the Maghreb, tries to beat the odds and open his dream restaurant – his way of keeping his life, heritage and family together. Black Venus, on the other hand, is based on a true story of an enslaved African woman exposed in carnivals and freak shows, and sacrificed at the altar of her master’s greed for fame and fortune. Finally, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, brings together two women, an aspiring teacher and an artist, intricately mixing the music of Bob Marley and the existentialist philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre, in a passionate love affair that strives to go the distance between the elitist and the working class.
The first film adapted from a graphic novel (Julie Maroh’s Blue Angel) to win the Palme d’Or, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 (the film’s French title) divided opinion with its graphic sex scenes. Realised in long and ambitious, typical Kechiche takes, Blue Is The Warmest Colour’s no-holds-barred lesbian love making was praised by its fans (amongst whom count none other than the president of the Cannes Festival jury Mr Steven Spielberg) as deeply honest and intimate, while some accused it of being voyeuristic. In the wake of Paris’s large anti-gay marriage demonstrations (which took place the morning of the Cannes award ceremony), the film’s polemicists saw more sinister motives for its victory. All this – in addition to reports about the director’s exhaustive demands for endless, often unpaid hours issued by worn-out technicians – there’s no denying that, as some of Kechiche’s advocates declare, it does have a cost to obtain such results.
For his part, Kechiche dedicated his golden award to the Tunisian youth, the revolution and their aspiration to ‘…live, express themselves and love freely’. Since, according to the director, no revolution is complete without a sexual revolution, he hopes this victory will do some good — especially to those youths.