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Gems of Cannes

 | June 4, 2013

Blue is the Warmest Colour, with its explicit lesbian relationship, leads the way of Cannes film festival.


One of nicest things about the Cannes Film Festival is that it invariably offers celluloid gems. One can always be sure of watching at least half a dozen remarkable movies during the annual 12-day event which ended recently on the truly picturesque French Riviera by the glistening waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Twenty-three years at the Festival, and I am still not tired.

This year, the Festival’s 66th edition presented some lovely works, interspersed with a heist of Chopard jewels from a big hotel, a robbery in an apartment occupied by a producer and his team and, believe it or not, a shooting incident on the beachfront close to where two important jury members were participating in a television show. The man with the gun was caught.

If the thieves and the gunman were bold, some of the directors were bolder. And the Steven Spielberg jury of nine men and women (including India’s Vidya Balan) matched step with step.

Although for most part of the Festival, Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis seemed like a sure Palm d’Or clincher with the film also being on top of the critics’ favourite list (it won the Grand Prize, second to Palm d’Or), Abdellatif Kechiche’s lesbian love story, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, pipped Davis at the winning post. Curiously, the award came on a day when Paris saw prolonged demonstrations against same sex marriage.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is a sexually explicit movie, which features long sequences of real sex between two attractive young actresses.  It can well be termed pornographic, though opinion among critics was divided. The veteran Indian film critic, Saibal Chatterjee, had a dissenting note on this view. “Pornography is a very lose term”, he said.

Be that as it may, the Screen critic, Fionnuala Halligan, quipped in her blog: “Blue Is The Warmest Colour is the five-star, must-see, talk of the Croisette. It does feature lengthy sequences of graphic, real sex between two gorgeous young actresses, but that’s not the [only] reason why the movie was so warmly received; it’s also a deeply tender look at first love.” Indeed it is.

Tunisian-born  Kechiche’s  drama comes after his immensely disappointing Black Venus (also at Cannes in an earlier year), and this latest work of his is as gentle a love story as it is a passionate unfolding of unsimulated sex between two young girls. It details not just sex, but also a young girl’s discovery of adulthood in the arms of an older girl. Despite being three hours long, the film does not sag at any point.

Loosely adapted by Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix from a prize-winning Gallic graphic novel by Julie Maroh, the script spans 10 years in the life of a high school student, Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), who lives in a blue-collar home at Lille. We see her first during an unfulfilling heterosexual relationship with a fellow classmate, and later she connects with a blue- haired art school student, Emma (Lea Seydoux), in a lesbian bar. As the years roll by, Adele becomes a Kindergarten teacher and Emma an artist, specialising in female nudes. They move in together, forging a sexual bond that not many directors would dare to explore and portray at such length and in such detail. The women are shown in various positions, their moans captured in all their intensity and the flesh exposed with little hesitation.

But then sex and love though powerfully uniting entities can sometimes lose to class differences, and the two women clearly belong to different social strata.  And this is precisely what happens to them, though Adele’s heterosexual fling comes as an excuse for Emma to call off the relationship.

Blue is the Warmest Colour may not be a piece of great story telling, but it is the performance by especially  19-year-old newcomer Exarchopoulos that holds the frames together in an extraordinarily compelling way. She manages to portray feelings and emotions that are only suggested in other works. She captures both ecstasy and agony in all their excitingly varied and intense splendour. Exarchopoulos should have won the Palm for the Best Actress. But Cannes has this questionable tradition of diversifying prizes. So Berenice Bejo got it instead for her acting in Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, switching from The Artist’s silent comedy star to the articulate, moving heroine of an Iranian domestic drama set in Paris.

The Past may not be as brilliant as the helmer’s  earlier A Separation, but is nonetheless a disturbing picture of how modern families grow dysfunctional. What is also missing in The Past are the rather convoluted Iranian judicial, political and religious systems, for the movie is set in Paris, unlike A Separation whose story unfolded in Tehran.

The Past opens in a masterful manner when we see The Artist actress, Berenice Bejo, portraying Marie, at the airport trying to catch the eye of a man, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), across a glass partition. He turns out to be her husband, who is returning to Paris after a four-year-separation to sign the divorce papers. Marie wants Ahmad to stay at her place, not in a hotel, hoping that he would talk her teenage daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet), out of her tantrums and sulky mood. Estranged from her father in Brussels who was once married to Marie, Lucie is fond of Ahmad and does not want her mother to marry her third lover, Samir, (Tahar Rahim). The family is not just this: there are two other children, one Marie’s little daughter and Lucie’s sister, and Samir’s little boy. Marie is all set to marry Samir, but there is something that seems to be holding her back. Perhaps, she is not sure that she wants to close her ties with Ahmad. Another part of her uncertainty about letting Ahmad finally go and getting into a more permanent relationship with Samir is the fact that his wife is in a coma following her attempted suicide.

Also about family, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Like Father Like Son from Japan  grapples with the issue of paternity. A young rising architect, arrogant and snooty, leads a life that is perfect to the hilt with a polished wife and a six-year-old son who is groomed to be part of the society’s cream. However, a call from the hospital where his son was born shatters this impeccable life of the architect. The hospital says that his son was mistakenly switched at birth, and that the architect’s son is not really his son. The architect is asked to meet the other family and decide what both want to do. In what appears like a painful process when the two families must come together to prepare for a re-switch of their sons, the architect begins to understand that parenthood is much more complex than designing skyscrapers. Relationships take a lot more than cement and mortar to be firmed up. Kore-Eda presents an immensely restrained canvas in the true Japanese style, shorn of histrionics or melodrama. Wonderful performances and an easy pace got the film a Jury Prize.

Among the other highlights of Cannes was Steven Soderbergh’s reportedly last tryst with the megaphone, Behind the Candelabra, a touching gay love story set in the midst of American showbiz at a time when nobody would dare to admit his/her sexual preference. Michael Douglas is virtually unrecognisable as the piano maestro Liberace, whose affair with Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), never came in the way of his huge female fan following. Women despite Liberace’s queer style of dressing in the finest of furs, adored the entertainer.

And Jia Zhang-ke’s A Touch of Sin (prize for the Best Screenplay) is a no-holds barred work on the evils in China – the tragedy of sweatshop workers, the corruption in the railways and so on.  A kind of Cannes offering to fulfil its desire for controversy.  But the film did not evoke any.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at [email protected]


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