Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

'Blue Is the Warmest Color's Lesbian Sex Scenes Are Hot But Boring

Reviews
by Judith Dry
October 16, 2013 12:41 PM
10 Comments
  • |
'Blue Is the Warmest Color's Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux

Two girls on screen are devouring each other, the sun a tiny bright ball eclipsed behind their plump lips, briefly illuminating the space between their hungry mouths until they dive in for more, swallowing the light and each other. We see nipples sucked erect, heads buried deep between thighs, hear the smacking of hands on flesh and the slosh of fluids. You can almost smell the sex. And, yes, you can even glimpse something small and blossom like, briefly unrecognizable in its hairlessness, even to a connoisseur. (Not that I know any...)

Are you blushing yet? Don't worry, so is the entire Western media. In the maelstrom of Op-eds and reviews, gossip columns and interviews, even winning Canne's coveted Palme d'Or couldn't save Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is the Warmest Color from becoming the butt of many "girl-on-girl action" jokes (a term I'd be happy to never hear again.) Turns out the joke's on us, America. What is wrong with us that we cannot enjoy a little sexual coming of age film without needing a cold shower? America, your puritanical roots are showing. 

Aside from a few detours to the land of actress/director feuds, the cultural discourse around the film has been surprisingly astute. Manohla Dargis began the conversation, perhaps unfairly, when she took to her New York Times megaphone to proclaim, "The movie feels far more about Mr. Kechiche's desires than anything else." The gauntlet tossed, any serious film critic had to address their grande dame's assertion if they wanted to review the film. And want to, they did. B. Ruby Rich stepped up to advocate for the film, a respected theorist and critic who coined the term "New Queer Cinema." She's quoted in the trailer, alongside Steven Spielberg, saying, "Blue carries the female coming of age film into historic new territory." Dargis responded teasingly, according to one industry insider, that her colleague was simply titillated by the sex scenes. I guess Dargis' opinion as a heterosexual (we call them breeders) is more valid, since she was not (ostensibly) in danger of being distracted by any stirrings she may have felt. I, like Rich, was in grave, grave danger. 

And so the dialogue about who is and is not allowed to tell certain stories becomes about who is and is not allowed to participate in said dialogue. It's very confusing. Dear readers, I present my totally biased opinion of the explicit sapphic sex scenes: hot, authentic, and frankly, kind of boring.

The wild positions, animal passion, and seeming endlessness of the sex scenes was very naturalistic. Kechiche, a Tunisian Frenchman, obviously did his homework. (Perhaps that is what got Dargis so riled.) What I object to is that the three sex scenes, each virtually indistinguishable from the next, did not progress and therefore did not serve the narrative. The first scene cements the intense passion the two share, although for a first-timer our protagonist Adele is suspiciously savvy, needing no direction. Which brings me to my only technical gripe, which is the complete lack of talking. Lesbians talk during sex. A lot. A little talking helps steer the ship, as it could have with this movie. 

Alain Guiraudie's 'Stranger by the Lake'

It could have showed how these characters relate to each other, who is in control when, and how their sexual interaction mirrors their interaction outside the bedroom. Instead, we get a second sex scene that looks just like the first, except that they have advanced very quickly to lesbian sex 401: scissoring. And when one lover's interest starts to wane, we see no sign of it in the final sex scene. Would that not have been a good time to use sex to tell the story?

I don't mean to insist the film failed because the sex was unrealistic. Blue Is the Warmest Color is a work of art, it does not need to be realistic. But Kechiche failed in his mission. You see, he wrote himself a stand-in to act as mouthpiece, a handsome older Tunisian man who has the power to "make or break" a young artist's career, much like Kechiche has done for his actress/muse. When a lively discussion of female sexuality breaks out over spaghetti, the artist insists, "For you, our orgasm is mystical." Faux Kechiche answers, "Everything I glimpse is frustrated by the limits of male sexuality." 

So Dargis was right. But Kechiche admits it. If only he displayed the same respect for female artists as his fictional counterpart does. When asked in a press conference what lesbian directed films he considered this film's forebears, Kechiche replied, Ben-Hur.

Three hours long, Blue is the Warmest Color luxuriates in its post-coital malaise, while Alain Guiraudie's Stranger By the Lake packs a mighty punch into 97 minutes. Set at a beach where gay men go to tan in the nude and tumble in the bushes, this paradise for the horny and lonely is disrupted when one of their own mysteriously drowns. Guiraudie manages to infuse the glistening water with a menacing hue, and the sounds of breeze in the trees or footsteps on gravel assume an ominous timbre. Nature can be dangerous, but human nature is lethal. Sex here is central to the story's entire reason for being told; it brings our characters together to this beach and clouds all other desires, even the desire to survive. By equating gay male sex with death, Guiraudie reminds us of the problematic tropes of the past, boldly declaring them no longer off-limits. Unlike Kechiche, Guiraudie writes from his own experience, rather than striving to see the world through a different lens. He strips nude alongside his characters, liberating himself to reveal his dark inner nature. 

This essay is one in a series produced by participants of this year's New York Film Festival Critics Academy. Click here for more on the writers.


Reviews
  • |

More: Critics Academy, New York Film Festival

10 Comments

  • Jamie | October 17, 2013 3:11 PMReply

    Great comment, Cristin H-D! Many thanks for the alternate, detailed perspective.

  • Jamie | October 17, 2013 3:12 PM

    (Excuse me: I mean *Cristine* H-D.)

  • Peter | October 17, 2013 12:50 PMReply

    Oh indiewire. Yet another contrary to the contrarian hack piece. The film ISN'T EVEN OUT YET and we have to slosh through all this trite bullsπit over and over again. It's just so tiring. The real fantasy this director has now is his film NOT coming out. Does that tell you anything?

  • flakoaen | October 16, 2013 9:50 PMReply

    I like that you said lesbians talk during sex like it's something to do with your being a lesbian that you talk a lot during sex. Stop making a divide between gender specific sex. It's all subjective and individual.

  • Patricia | October 16, 2013 9:03 PMReply

    Lesbians talk during sex? I didn't know that was a requirement.

  • Cristine H-D | October 16, 2013 8:16 PMReply

    Stranger By The Lake is another rather tedious exercise in equating sex with death. As with Shame which showed the nadir of a man's sex life as being with other men with, hell, being a threesome, Stranger By The Lake sees sexual desire as an act based in self-loathing and lacking in control in men. Both are films by moralists who, while having sex sequences (though Stranger in the Lake has the feel of a Swedish Erotica film for gay men), preaching that sex is transgressive. To let Guiraudie have a pass on his reactionary morality play due to his orientation is as flawed as to scold Kechiche for his. If I wanted to watch how dangerous it can be to desire companionship, I'd watch a Lifetime movie.

    Blue is the Warmest Color may be the first film to get the evolution of sex in a romance just about right. First comes seeing your lover nude and wanting to possess almost every part of their body sexually - which for a great deal of people, including lesbians, is not the time for talk. Then comes moving on in expertise which is rendered in as authentic a presentation of "scissoring" as I have ever seen in any medium. Then comes the wonder of sex and affection comingling - maybe you stepped out of the theater in that scene but there was talking - remember 14 out of 20. But that last one is the most dangerous for, unless you share much else besides sexual desire, you have two directions you can go - stabilized or shaky ground. Sex doesn't just turn bad when it has been great. It is that even great sex loses it's pull when someone, in this case, Emma, feels there is something else missing. That is real. When Adele desires and is turned down for sex by Emma, which happens more than once in the 2nd half, it is evident that, while the sex is great, Emma desires something deeper. Adele sees pleasure as something which can overcome all. Since Emma gives her more pleasure than anyone or anything in the world, her love for Emma is overwhelming and the sex symbolizes that. The sex is taken away because Emma is moving on. Adele may be the one who commits an act of blatant betrayal but that only hastens Emma's move.

    Which one is more honest? Stranger By The Lake is designed for those who are unable to let go of sex as dangerous and demented and even fatal. Blue is the Warmest Color is designed for those who recognize there is no greater sensation that having great sex with someone you think is the most amazing person you have ever met and that there is no greater heartbreak than that person falling out of love with you. Sadly enough, the latter film is the revolutionary one and the former is the cliché.

  • brian fantana | October 16, 2013 4:03 PMReply

    Kechiche is hailed universally as being a "actresses director" and every actress (artist) in France would love to work with him because of the performances he elicits from them (why do you think the actresses shared in the Palm D'Or). Your assessment of "respect" for female artists is a bit absurd - based on what???? That a straight male French Tunisian filmmaker isn't well versed lesbian film making and that maybe his inspiration for making a terrific love story, straight or gay, wasn't based on some more obscure work? Please

  • Danielle | October 16, 2013 3:45 PMReply

    Great article!!

  • Arsène | October 16, 2013 2:56 PMReply

    I admit that the 7 minutes sex scene can be boring to some. But I do not agree with you when you say that it didn't really fit in the narrative or helped it. First, it's a love story, and sex is part of most of love stories. All Kechiche did was giving them as big a part as they have in most relationships. More importantly, I think the movie isn't about loving someone and getting over it afterwards, nor a true coming of age story. It tells the tale of a girl trying to find pleasure in everything she can. She eats, she sleeps, she smokes, dances, drinks, eats again, lies on grass, masturbates, learns in school and yes, has sex a lot. So I think these scenes were really helpful in the understanding of the character.

    P.S. I'm French, and it's funny to see that the two films mentionned in your article are from French directors. >> Yes, maybe America is a little too puritan.

  • Joe H | October 16, 2013 1:04 PMReply

    No I wasn't blushing. Just watched Caligula last night, can't get any more hardcore than that 0_0

Email Updates