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Popular Cannes Winner 'Blue is the Warmest Color' Receives Chillier Criticism

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire June 6, 2013 at 3:16PM

It was a hit with critics and it won the Palme d'Or, but Abdellatif Kechiche's film about young lesbian lovers is now receiving its first taste of backlash.
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"Blue is the Warmest Color."
"Blue is the Warmest Color."

Most movies that receive overwhelming critical praise and lots of festival prizes wind up also receiving some critical backlash at some point. The hype and the buzz start to get so loud that surprise hits quickly become highly anticipated (and potentially disappointing) films. But you don't often see that backlash coming from the author of the movie's source material.

That's the developing situation involving the most recent Palme d'Or winner, "Blue is the Warmest Color" from director Abdellatif Kechiche. "Blue" was riding high after the Cannes Film Festival in May. It won the festival's biggest prize, earned the top spot in both the Screen Daily and Criticwire Cannes critics polls, and was acquired for U.S. distribution by IFC Films. But in recent days, its reception has turned decidedly chillier (because... blue... the warmest... nevermind). Surprisingly, the de facto leader of the naysayers is Julie Maroh, the author of the graphic novel the film is based on.

An article in The New York Times details Maroh's negative reaction to the movie, which mostly involves her opinion of its already famous and apparently graphic lesbian sex scenes, which she found "a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn." She noted that Kechiche is a man and both lead actresses are straight ("unless proven otherwise"), which lent their lovemaking a decided inauthentic bent. 

Maroh's opinion might still be the minority one, but as the Times' Elaine Sciolino notes, she's not alone:

"Though there was not a strict divide between male and female reviewers, some female critics have joined the debate, faulting the film for its idealization of naked female bodies in bed. 'The movie feels far more about Mr. Kechiche's desires than anything else,' The New York Times's co-chief film critic Manohla Dargis wrote in a report from Cannes.

In a telephone interview, Amy Taubin, a member of the selection committee for the New York Film Festival and a contributing editor for Film Comment 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."

It will be interesting to see just how split the final critical reaction to "Blue is the Warmest Color" is along gender (and, perhaps, sexual orientation) lines. At this point, it's still a very small sample size to draw anything like a scientific conclusion. But the early hints of a trend here, coupled with the recent study about female writers' marginalized role in the world of film critics, suggest that this will be a very hot topic of conversation around "Blue"'s theatrical release.

Read more of "Darling of Cannes Now at Center of Storm."

This article is related to: Abdel Kechiche, Cannes Film Festival, Division Division


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