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An interview with Abdellatif Kechiche director of Cannes winner Blue Is the Warmest Colour

  Sunday 26th May 2013

2013 Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèle) tells the story of Adele, a teenager whose life changes forever when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. In front of others, Adele grows, seeks herself, loses herself, finds herself…

Why did you choose to adapt Julie Maroh’s graphic novel  Le Bleu  Est  une Couleur Chaude (Blue Angel) for your fifth film?

Abdellatif Kechiche: The film is very loosely adapted from the graphic novel. It was the combination of reading the graphic novel and a film project  I’ve had in mind for a long time that triggered my desire to make  Blue Is the Warmest Colour. Since Games of Love and Chance [2003] I have had a project for a screenplay about the career of female French teacher passionate about  theatre. I was interested in developing a female character who was passionate about  her professional life and wanted to pass on her  enthusiasm. At the  same time  this  teacher had  to take  on the repercussions of her  private  life on her  work  - her  loves,  her  bereavements and her break-ups. I met  many such  teachers, men  and women,  while making Games  of Love and Chance.  I was moved by the way they lived their  vocation. They were true  artists, who felt very strongly about reading, painting,  writing… Each of us remembers that  turning  point in our school  life when a passionate teacher took us to see this film, or encouraged us to read that book, and perhaps instilled  the  seeds of a  vocation  in us.  But  in the  end  my screenplay never reached fruition. So when I came  across Julie  Maroh’s graphic novel, the story of absolute love between two women  and, at the same time, of a young woman becoming a schoolteacher, I saw how I could link these two projects.

Vocation is a strong theme for the  two lead  characters in your film – painting for one, teaching for the other.

I  find this  notion  of vocation  entirely  legitimate and  honourable, and  all  the more  so since  these are  anonymous, selfless vocations.  It’s not about  trying to secure the recognition of others. I’m full of admiration for these teachers who are deeply engaged with the progress of their students. It becomes part of their lives, the thing that gives them  satisfaction.

Your film is first and foremost a love story between two women.

Telling a love story between two women  means to work with two actresses to the fullest;  this kind of work excites me deeply and it’s becoming more and more important in my film career.

I ask myself, what was it about  this story from the graphic novel that  was most inspiring, what was the spark? The illustrated panels showing naked bodies? It’s possible. In the end I don’t know the precise motivations.

How did you choose your actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos?

First I met Léa Seydoux for the role of Emma. She shared her character’s beauty, voice, intelligence and freedom. But what was decisive during  our meeting was her  take  on  society:  she’s very much  tuned  in to the  world  around her.  She possesses a real  social  awareness, she  has  a real  engagement with the world, very similar to my own. I was able to realise to how great an extent,  as I spent a whole year with her between the time she  was chosen for the role and the end of shooting.

I also  thought there was  something that  could  be described as  quite “Arabic” about  Léa, something of an Arabic soul. She told me later  she has  Arabic half- brothers, which I didn’t know. Léa has  a way of going through life fully aware  of what’s happening. It’s also a way of accepting life’s vicissitudes. It has something to  do  with  nomadism,  wandering, and  with  melancholy,  and  what  we  call “mektoub”. Léa is tinged with all this, with this way of going through the world.

And Adèle Exarchopoulos?

We organised a huge casting and I chose Adèle the minute I saw her. I had taken her for lunch at a brasserie. She ordered lemon tart and when I saw the way she ate it I thought: “It’s her! Very much  “within her senses”, her way of moving her mouth,  of chewing… Her mouth  was a very important element in this  film – in fact, both characters’ mouths were  decisive, and for very human reasons. They provoke all sorts of feelings and sensations. Something in a face touches us: a nose,  a mouth… For me this is the beginning  of everything…

Why did  you  decide to  change the   name of  one  of  the   characters from Clémentine to Adèle?

Clémentine became Adèle because I wanted  to keep the name of my actress. It didn’t bother her. I think it even helped  her merge with her character, and I with her. It’s also a matter of sound:  Adèle, Emma,  Léa are all light, ethereal names.

Of course, it’s subjective. And then  there’s the fact that Adèle means “justice” in Arabic, which I liked a lot.

 “Social  justice”  is an  important word  with regard to all your  films.  Here,  is it conveyed by a vision  of the  two different classes to which  the  characters belong?

It is indeed  one of the  recurring themes in my films, and becoming almost an obsession: where  is the  social  difference? Perhaps  it’s a finger  on the  pulse of a  world  to which  I  feel  I  belong,  the  class to which  Adèle  also  belongs – the working class.

Emma  belongs to an elite: intellectual, artistic. Each of my heroines is confined to her social  class. The difficulties  they have with their  relationship, that  which causes them   to  break   up  and  ultimately  what  the  film  is  about,  the  block in their  relationship that  finally causes the  rupture, is their  social  difference, since   it  generates a  difference in  their  personal  aspirations.  It’s not  at  all their  homosexuality, which  would  be  more  or  less tolerated, or  understood, by the world around them.

Why did you choose to treat homosexuality as  a love like any other, with no specific  demands, given that  society  can sometimes be intolerant?

I  had  nothing  militant   to  say  about  homosexuality. I  didn’t  try  to  define  it, and  at  no point  during  the  process of making  of the  film did I say to myself: “Yes, but these are two women…” I felt rather that I was telling the story of a couple. I  didn’t  see   why  I  should   talk  specifically   about   homosexuality,  especially since  the  best  way would  be  - if I  had  to  have  a  discourse on  the  subject – not to… to film it like any other  love story, with all the beauty that this involves.

But it can only have a powerful and positive  impact that  you – a French citizen of Arab origins (where homosexuality is not always  accepted) – should chose to direct such  a story.

Once the film was completed I thought: “This is going to do Tunisian youth some good.” A revolution  isn’t complete unless it’s also a sexual revolution.

The sex  scenes are  essential to explain the  powerful love between your two heroines. How did you approach them?

What  I  was  trying  to  do  when  we  were  shooting these scenes was  to  film what   I   found   beautiful.  So  we  shot   them   like  paintings,  like  sculptures. We spent a lot of time lighting them  to ensure they would look beautiful; after, the innate  choreography of the loving bodies took care  of the rest, very naturally. They had to be made  aesthetically beautiful  while keeping  the sexual  dimension. We tried  many different  things;  we worked  hard.  We talked  a lot but in the end discussions led nowhere. You talk a lot on set but ultimately what you say doesn’t matter that  much   because  it’s so  intellectualised, whereas  reality  is  more intuitive.

The theme of romantic loneliness follows the theme of love.

The theme of breaking up, the emptiness you can feel, the loneliness you experience  when  you’re  no  longer   loved,  the  bereavement  you  go  through

- everyone   has   known  this.  Everyone  feels  it,  and  no  one  can  explain  the pain  it can  create, but  what  interests me  is that,  despite the  pain,  life goes on and what must be accomplished goes on. For me, that’s why Adèle’s character is heroic.  She takes it all upon herself and continues to fulfil that  for which she was destined.

The  loneliness triggered by heartache leads to courage, a theme that  also seems to interest you in this film.

I greatly  admire the  character of Adèle: this free  woman,  courageous, devoted and  strong. Adèle  is  devastated  by her  sorrow  but  doesn’t  once  let  it show in her  work as  a schoolteacher. She  copes.  Whenever  I see  courage like this in someone, it troubles me.  Personally  I don’t feel  courageous, but  I hold  on to the  idea.  I often  see  it in young women,  this  strength, this  self-affirmation. It reminded me  - without  my wanting  to compare myself  to him in any way – of Marivaux, and in particular of “La vie de Marianne”,  with its orphan heroine so determined and full of courage in the face of hardship. There is a kinship with the way I saw Adèle.

Your cinematic style is also noticeable – a real endeavour to have the acting as natural as possible. How do you achieve this?

It is important that  what  is conveyed  by images should  be  natural, and  even though  there’s always fabrication, it must  be as little as possible. It’s a process of seeing how close  you can get to “the truth”  of a character, of trying to get rid of the acting, while knowing you never really quite get rid of it.

This  is  even  more pronounced in  the  group   scenes where the  exchanges between the characters seem improvised. Is there any improvisation involved?

In  these  group   sequences  the   text,  the   lines,   are   very  precisely  written. They exist  but  I  try – I  don’t  feel  I  have  quite  succeeded yet – not  to have  a predefined rhythm.  I try to find the  rhythm  while we are  shooting since  I have difficulty  with  rhythm   in  the  screenplay,  even  regarding the  plot  structure. When  I’m on  set  I  need  to  break  free  of that  principle,  the  principle  of the screenplay that must be respected at all cost. I prefer to move towards others with my lines, to be open to something else,  and not be get stuck on what is written. So when it comes to these kinds of scenes, everything  is open. Lines disappear and  the  writing  continues during  shooting. I feel  very comfortable with these scenes. They are  constantly being re-created, to get the actors to react to each other.  That amuses me.

Now the film is completed. What has it given you?

It didn’t give me  any answers. On the  contrary, it has  multiplied  my questions and uncertainties about  the feminine  principle  - the principle  of life, of hope, of mystery.  I have the feeling that perhaps one day I will find an answer.

Is that  the reason for the film’s subtitle “Chapters 1 and 2”?

Chapters 1 and 2 because I don’t yet know the other chapters. I’d really like Adèle to tell me what happens next.

Is Adèle your Antoine  Doinel?  [Truffaut’s hero and  alter ego played  by Jean- Pierre Léaud in several of his films]

Antoine Doinel, I admit it has crossed my mind.

The editorial unit

Watch two clips from Blue Is the Warmest Colour here:

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