This year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Blue Is The Warmest Color, can’t stop generating controversy. The latest headline-grabber is an interview with the film’s two lead actresses that has them describing the shoot as “horrible” before going into specifics. As soon as Blue first screened, critics were busy debating whether its lengthy 10-minute sex scene was a virtuoso combination of sexual fireworks expressing character development or an exploitative example of the male gaze at its pornographic worst. Among those unamused was Julie Maroh (author of the source graphic novel), who wrote that the centerpiece was “porn” and she suspected that “what was missing on the set” was lesbians. “I don’t know the sources of information for the director and the actresses (who are all straight, unless proven otherwise),” she added.
That much was confirmed when Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos sat down to discuss the film with The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern. “It’s hard because I’m not that familiar with lesbian sex,” Exarchopoulos said about the big scene, which Seydoux noted took 10 days to complete. The entire shoot was similarly exhausting: Of the scene where the two girls first encounter each other, Seydoux estimated that the 30-second meeting took more than 100 takes to satisfy director Abdellatif Kechiche. When the two giggled after one take, Seydoux said Kechiche threw a set monitor onto the street, screaming, “I can’t work under these conditions!” The actresses really hit each other during a scene (“In America, we’d all be in jail,” Seydoux said), and though Kechiche is a “tortured” “genius” and Exarchopoulos found working with him “a good learning experience” as an actor, it’s no surprise both actresses said they would probably never work with him again.
The performers’ description of the prolonged shoot coincided with complaints made anonymously by crew members in May, which cited a “bullying” set, chaos about who was working which days, lost payroll hours, 16-hour days recorded as 8-hour ones, and a shoot that spiraled from two planned months to five and a half. Seydoux confirmed this too, noting that “what was terrible on this film was that we couldn’t see the ending.” The crew’s complaints provide an extreme example of film-technician frustration in France, which is currently cresting with an ongoing argument about how to fix such common abuses of minimum wages for set workers.
A new collective labor agreement was passed in January 2012 to put an end to such practices, but it’s yet to be enforced. Some French directors have claimed that being forced to pay these rates would make production of their work fiscally impossible. Last December, veteran left-wing director Robert Guédiguian published an article claiming that he couldn’t have made his first seven films without such illegal practices, and apparently little’s changed since his 1980 debut. Kechiche’s film is now the freshest high-profile example of this ongoing controversy, and this latest interview guarantees it won’t be ending anytime soon.