Larger text size Very large text size The swirl of hostility, accusations and counter-accusations, retribution and jeering from the wings that has enveloped Blue is the Warmest Colour, the French erotic epic that was the toast of last year's Cannes Film Festival, makes most of Hollywood's catfights look pale by comparison.
Almost certainly, but with the added spice of Frenchness. Blue is the Warmest Colour is quite extraordinary. The film, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, a French director of Tunisian origin widely regarded as one of French cinema's small handful of masters, is the story of a great passion between two teenage girls. It traces their affair from flirtation through a bitter break-up and its melancholy aftermath with such force of feeling that you seem to be living their lives yourself.
Blue is the Warmest Colour. The thrilled threesome were pictured on the red carpet kissing and hugging. In private, says Kechiche, Seydoux wept with joy. A still from Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Transmission Films Advertisement That was at the end of May. Then the backlash flipped into action. Immediately after the Cannes premiere, a French film technicians' union criticised Kechiche for his ''disorganised'' approach to filming and for making demands on his crew that amounted to ''moral harassment'', a charge he denied. At the same time, Julie Maroh, the author of the graphic novel on which the film was based, publicly criticised the film's ground-breaking sex scenes, describing them as ''ridiculous'' and questioning whether there had been any real, live lesbians on Kechiche's set.
Nothing Maroh said could douse the critics' rapture, however. Blue is the Warmest Colour was now a festival favourite, with the intensely serious Kechiche and its young stars asked to give dozens of interviews. As their stock of stories gathered momentum, however, Kechiche began to emerge as something of a monster.
Seydoux, the elder of the two actresses at 28, was quoted at Telluride Festival as saying, to website The Daily Beast, that working on the film was ''horrible'' and that she had felt ''like a prostitute''. In the same interview, Exarchopoulos recounted how the director drove them on during a scene of a break-up. She was hitting me so many times, and [Kechiche] was screaming: Talking about filming the sex scenes, the longest of which was filmed over 10 gruelling days, Seydoux said: Sometimes you could spend like five hours on a scene.
I felt like a prostitute. AP She then went on to say how normal it felt, even when a model-maker came to make moulds for the silicone shields they wore over their genitals. By the time they reached America, however, this reflective series of observations had been recast as fury. Kechiche responded with fury of his own.
Two days later, he told a press conference in Los Angeles that it was obscene for these young women to claim they had suffered. The website responded by suggesting he could be seen as paranoid.
It's better than being called 'tyrant' or 'despot','' he snapped back. Sometimes they worked for 18 hours a day, although on other days Kechiche announced they were just going to drink coffee and talk. The shoot, supposed to take two months, took five.
Individual scenes were done dozens of times. Kechiche thinks he amassed hours of footage. He didn't just shoot on set, either. Exarchopoulos woke on a train to Lille after a day off to find he was filming her, whereupon he instructed her to go and buy some snacks and eat while he filmed.
Sometimes it seemed to her she was spending whole days crying. It was Seydoux, despite being racked by her own doubts - ''Sometimes I'd go: I know it's so hard for you, but you will see, the film will be great and you will have a lot of success with it'.
To declare that there were times they wanted to give up, even that they wouldn't want to go through it again, is not an indictment. Speaking to The Guardian in November, Exarchopoulos confirmed that ''this film is the best thing I have done in my life''. To me, she said: I think I have become grown up and mature.
By the end of September, after another triumphant outing at the Toronto Film Festival, Kechiche was telling the press the film should never be released because it was ''too sullied'' and it would be impossible for anyone to view the film ''with a clean heart and a watchful eye''. The stories about him, he told French magazine Telerama, had left him feeling ''humiliated, disgraced.
I felt a rejection of me; I live like a curse''. Although this comes not from Kechiche himself but from Exarchopoulos, there have been racist jibes on the internet about an Arab persuading young French girls to take off their clothes.
There was another round of interviews for Blue is the Warmest Colour in London before it opened in November. An interviewer for The Guardian saw Exarchopoulos greet Kechiche warmly in the corridor as they went to their respective interview rooms and asked whether the feud had been exaggerated.
He was easy prey for pot stirrers. I'm not saying that negatively. Abdellatif records a lot of takes, so that you can let go. Even the opening in France was an anti-climax he compared to a dismal wedding. In part, he said, he wanted to recapture for himself that age ''when we build each other, we are building our own personality and the way we are going to be as adults''.
He could ''retrieve the young man I was at one point'', but he also wanted to mark the point of generational change. Stephanie Bunbury Stephanie Bunbury joined Fairfax after studying fine arts and film at university, but soon discovered her inner backpacker and obeyed that call. She has spent the past two decades flitting between Europe and Australia, writing about film, culture high and low and the arts. Most Viewed in Entertainment.