Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, Stanley Kubrick and Shelley Duvall, David O. Russell and Lily Tomlin. At the Los Angeles press day for Palme d'Or winner “Blue Is The Warmest Color" (our review), we were given these precedents by a publicist for the film's increasingly heated behind-the-scenes controversy, which began at Cannes and has slowly unfurled ever since, and was presumed to be one of the key topics for our roundtable conversations with director Abdellatif Kechiche and his lead actresses, Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos.
The interviews took place minutes after a tense press conference in which Kechiche chided his two leading ladies—Seydoux in particular—about their comments made to The Daily Beast about the making of the coming-of-age drama; understandably, each party—Kechiche and the two actresses arriving separately—trod carefully as they fielded further questions. But allowing the film's public spats to dominate the conversation is unwise when there's such an illuminating piece of work behind them; aspects of the controversies are necessary and relevant, others are not, but here we thought we'd chronicle the entire journey of the film alongside the words of Kechiche, Seydoux, and Exarchopoulos.
Given all of the controversy behind the film it's surprising to hear that for Kechiche, whose last film (2007's “The Secret of the Grain”) won the French César for Best Film and Directing, his next project was in fact intended as a lighter affair. “['Secret'] had really drained me emotionally,” he said, “because I identified so much with the main character [played by Habib Boufares]. So I went into ['Blue'] saying I'm going to do a love story—not with rose-colored glasses but still not as heavy--and it turned out to surprise me with the places it led.”
He says “suffering and pain” unexpectedly crawled into his screenplay adaptation of Julie Maroh's graphic novel, which the director took as initial inspiration but then quickly forged his own path through the material. Kechiche said he stayed more consistent with his intentions for the film's unconventional protagonists—15-year-old dreamer Adele (Exarchopoulos) and college student/aspiring artist Emma (Seydoux). “I didn't really think in terms of what was cliché and not cliché [with the characters]. My aim was to let my intuition guide me so that these two would not be seen as two women, but just two people.”
He added, “The film is about two people going through a relationship that everyone knows will end in a breakup, and the pain that that entails. Anybody can see that story and identify with it. As a filmmaker I wanted to construct this identification process, so that you fully connect to [the couple's] emotions and their breakup.”
In the final film, this arc runs just under three hours, with nary a frame running without Adele front and center, and oftentimes with Emma beside her. Obviously, Kechiche needed two actresses who could effectively sustain an audience's interest through this journey, and convey every subtle shift in attraction, betrayal, and jealousy. Luckily, he quickly found his first with Seydoux, who has continued to dazzle through her work in French dramas (“Farewell, My Queen”) and international studio efforts (“Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol”). Upon being cast, the actress immediately dove headlong into the intensive process that would soon become commonplace. “Abdel cast me for the part ten months before shooting, and during those ten months I was already meeting with him and being directed,” Seydoux said. “We would spend hours talking about women and life; I also took painting and sculpting lessons, and read a lot about art and philosophy.”
Kechiche says he related to the character of Emma in her struggles to become a painter and finds an audience, and also that of Adele's, who comes from the “proletariat working class” in which he grew up. For the role of Adele, a naïve teenager who falls hopelessly in love with Emma, Kechiche took a longer approach with Exarchopoulos. She was first spotted by casting director Sophie Blanvillain, and then met with Kechiche for discussions over the course of two months. As the actress would soon find out, Kechiche was after a very particular chemistry when selecting his leading ladies. “[When you see an actor or actress] there has to be the desire to work together so intimately and for such a long period of time,” he described. “What I saw in them was what they could bring from themselves to the role, and the generosity and the beauty of who they are.”