A straight man’s fantasyhttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/print/a-straight-mans-fantasy/

A straight man’s fantasy

A Cannes darling in May,Blue is the Warmest Colour,now invites trouble for its portrayal of lesbians

Elaine Sciolino

Last month the film Blue Is the Warmest Colour was the toast of Cannes,a drama about young lesbian love so celebrated for its explicit sex scenes that it won the festival’s top prize.

This month,it is being castigated for those very same scenes.

On the Riviera in May,the critics gushed. The graphic scenes were so magnificent,The Guardian wrote,that “they make the sex in famous movies like,say,Last Tango in Paris,look supercilious and dated.”

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Baz Bamigboye,a critic from The Daily Mail,meanwhile,confessed that he blushed like he had never blushed before,calling the sex scenes exceptionally beautiful. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m a bloke,” he added.

Now the film,directed by Abdellatif Kechiche,is the subject of a multifaceted debate here and abroad that turns on two questions: How to represent the female body and lesbian sex on screen? And who has the right,or at least the authority,to create those images?

The debate was set off when Julie Maroh,the 27-year-old author of Le Bleu Est une Couleur Chaude,the comic book-novel on which the film is based,criticised the film’s portrayal of lesbian sex as uninformed,unconvincing and pornographic.

“This was what was missing on the set: lesbians,” she wrote in an English translation of a French “communiqué” posted on her blog after the film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Noting that the director and actresses were “all straight,unless proven otherwise,” she said that with few exceptions,the film struck her as “a brutal and surgical display,exuberant and cold,of so-called lesbian sex,which turned into porn.”

In a telephone interview,Amy Taubin,a member of the selection committee for the New York Film Festival and a contributing editor for Film Critic Magazine,said: “They are exquisitely lit actresses pretending to have sex. They are made to look ridiculously,flawlessly beautiful.”

“The film is extremely voyeuristic,” she added.

Female commentators on the popular portrayal of women’s sexuality acknowledge the difficulty of realistically depicting lesbian sex on the big screen. “A heterosexual male is never going to film two women except in his fantasies,” said Sophie Bramly,an author,film producer and founder of the website SecondSexe,which promotes women’s sexual pleasure.

As for the sex scenes,not all of it was as real as it seemed to many. Both 19-year-old Adèle Exarchopoulos,who plays the younger Adèle,and Léa Seydoux,25,who plays the more experienced Emma,use their flawless bodies to embrace,writhe,scissor and do other things on screen.

But was it all real? Not really.

When a reporter for the New York newspaper Metro spoke to Seydoux of “several unsimulated sex scenes,” she interrupted and corrected him.

“Be careful,” she said. “They are simulated. We were wearing prostheses. But it was only a small protection.” (She did not explain what the prostheses were.)

Kechiche did not respond to requests for comment,but in an interview with the website Flicks and Bits,he explained that his goal was to idealise the female body.

In Maroh’s 156-page graphic novel,the lovers look alternately sad,angry,tortured,messy and wide-eyed. They rarely smile. Unlike the actresses,they are far from classically beautiful.

There may be a personal reason she reacted so negatively to the film: In her communiqué,she said Kechiche had never invited her to the set or responded to several emails. “I deeply wish to thank all those who appeared surprised,shocked,disgusted with the fact that Kechiche had no words for me when he received his Palme,” she wrote.

The Cannes prize was given to Kechiche just hours after masses of French demonstrators poured into the streets of Paris to protest France’s new law allowing same-sex marriage and adoption. While it would be impossible to say whether the protests helped determine the prize at Cannes,the coincidence of the timing was noted.

Kechiche told Reuters,“Everyone who is against same-sex marriage or love between two people of the same sex must see the film.”

Taubin had a somewhat different take.

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“If you take the sex out,” she said,“no one would be interested in this movie.”