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How Sexy is ‘Blue Is The Warmest Color’?

How Sexy is ‘Blue Is The Warmest Color’?

We went to see the opening of the French director Abdellatif Kechiche’s movie Blue is the Warmest Color that won all the prizes at the Festival of Cannes this year. A three-hour-long lesbian movie. One of my friends said, “I know why this is so long and boring: to hide the fact that it’s essentially porn.” I am not sure I would say it quite like that. But Julie Maroh, the author of the graphic novel that served as the inspiration for the film, used that term, and the actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, expressed dismay with the filmmaker when they saw the final cut. A male filmmaker, wouldn’t you know.

Our little group had a lot to say about the film. The fact that a lesbian relationship is given the Hollywood-style treatment with an engrossing story and superb actresses is note-worthy even if you have a lot to criticize. The plot tells the first love affair of high school student Adèle, who is shy, depressed, mute, and is often shown sleeping. She has a cute, pudgy face with a thick, upturned upper lip that tends to be open, revealing her teeth – a feature that certainly seemed  sexy to the director but often reminded me of Miss Piggy.  Adèle is shown slurping loads of spaghetti before she falls in love with blue-haired Emma and instantly (a nature talent?) graduates to oral sex.

None of us seasoned lesbians was impressed or turned on by the sex scenes. The first bed scene lasts a full seven minutes and is an exercise in the unreal. There is no initiation, no sensuous seduction for shy, depressed Adele who has only had a one-time, miserable sexcapade with a guy.

There is instant grunting, gasping, slurpy kissing in close-up, jumping from one sex position to the next, with more grunting, gasping, slurping, fingers and mouths in every opening (more or less), but not much visible pleasure and even less release.

I was finding myself turning into Masters and Johnson, stop-watch in hand, waiting for the frantic plateau phase to peak and flower into something like revelation, smiles, radiance, maybe teary gratitude. None of that. All this hungry despair and desperate acting-out of desire didn’t come across as really felt. Of course, turn-on is in the eye of the beholder. For me, what was missing was eros, hot sensuality, tenderness and ecstasy, laughter and tears. (Even though Americans are decried as puritans, this French depiction of sex between two women is miles away from the hot eroticism of Andy and Lana Wachovsky’s Bound.)

Did anyone in the sex scenes of Blue come at all? My little group of friends couldn’t tell. Maybe, maybe not. Adèle and Emma ended their seven-minute-sex seemingly just exhausted. They stopped their frenetics and acrobatics in a perfect 69 position, each limb nicely decorated for the final tableau. It didn’t help to know that both actresses are declared heterosexuals who were wearing fake vulvas for their sex scenes. (In case you have a question about vulvas, see my previous post!)

So, why all the accolades, the press attention, the hype? Because this, once again, is sex-as-fantasized by a man and geared at what the French love to discuss as the “male gaze”? One could argue that this kind of lesbian sex suspiciously resembles hetero sex. It resembles the modern French ways of depicting sex in their movies – think of The Lover, Romance, Intimacy. They point the camera at it with such merciless, unblinking coldness that blue can indeed seem “the warmest color” in their fridge.

What struck all of us was the hidden cliché about lesbian sex: they take so long and one can never be sure that they come.  If so, man still has a place, right? Man has always imagined his place in the bed of two lesbians. How reassuring for a hetero audience, women included.

Renate Stendhal, Ph.D. is a German-born, Paris-educated writer, writing coach and spiritual counselor with a private practice in the San Francisco/ Bay Area. Among her publications are True Secrets of Lesbian Desire: Keeping Sex Alive in Long-Term Relationships and the Lambda Award-winning photobiography Gertrude Stein: In Words and Pictures. Read her Gertrude Stein blog “Why Do Something If It Can Be Done”; and her cultural reviews on Scene4 as well as on her website www.renatestendhal.com. She is preparing a Kindle book on lesbian marriage and a Parisian memoir.

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5 comments

  • Jan Miller Corran says:

    Loved the film review. Honestly, just once I would like to see lesbian sex on screen the way it really is. Not choreographed, powdered, angled and fluffed. Just once I’d like to see intimacy on the screen. The kind of intimacy that makes for great sex. Not two people having at each other, but two people immersed in each other. I once wrote a poem called “There Is No Such Thing as Making Love”. People don’t have sex to create love. Somehow the sex came either because of it or in spite of it not existing, but not to “make” it.

    Just saying.

  • Just saw the film and really appreciate Stendhal’s review. And had the same “Masters and Johnson” thoughts. Does anyone actually have an orgasm in this film, and why not? At least the film does bring up interest and conversation about an important part of lesbian life..

  • joey brite says:

    The fact that I absolutely adored this film must mean that I’m not really a lesbian! Seriously folks- there are so many things that watching this piece of celluloid brought up for me…and I had no such ‘Masters and Johnson’ feeling at all during any part of the sex scenes. None of the sex scenes were choreographed and the two straight female actresses were simply directed to improvise. Much like ‘Brokeback Mountain’, the director had these two actresses barely say “hello” offset before jumping into their first sex scene (the one we see first),and what you see is just a portion of 800 hours of footage shot over 5 months. I found the sex scenes very HOT. The way that the storyline played out before they made it to the sheets was a more feminine approach than we normally see in a cross-over film. I experienced no such ‘male gaze’ as the writer stresses. Time was taken with the story, the dialogue was realistic, and the whole way the relationships were played out felt like I was right in the room or the school yard. The excitement of first contact (for the younger character)with another high schooler girl’s kiss, then that same teen later actively seeking out a bar where lesbians frequent hoping to catch a closer look at the gal she turned her head for passing on the street (another scene that was worked on for a long ass time), then the psychological foreplay of philosophical discussion leading to getting into the sack and having the kind of sex that most lesbians I’ve known could only dream to have…these negative comments just allude my reality. As a younger, old school and ‘no-touch’ Butch Feminist, I worked in the porn industry back in the early 70’s serving in several capacities. I was a fluffer for one film, props, painting, location scout and a million other things for others. I was working with lesbians who wanted to shoot these kinds of scenes (but with more graphic full-on penetration into orifices that this film doesn’t do), and that wasn’t economically viable at the time. It took like 2 more decades before that became a reality. I think you critics are being too harsh on something that the rest of the world is getting to wake up to in a really positive way and you’re just pissing all over it because maybe the style of the sex scenes are not your cup of tea? Gimme a break! When dildos became an open part of the lesbian landscape and finally accepted, some still were screaming that it was just ‘oppressive’ to even use dildos between females and many naysayers had no problem quickly pointing accusing fingers at those lesbians who got off on that must really want a bio male. Insane to think it now, but that attitude was common. What struck me about the entirety of the project was the way the class differences were handled, the consequences of internalized homophobia, the concept of betrayal and ‘cheating’ (in who’s eyes?), and just experiencing a first devastating falling in the kind of can’t-help-it-lust-love thing that many of us have had…Blue is the Warmest Color is a lifesaving film that should be seen by every teen in America and abroad and used to stimulate discussion about several topics. Why all the accolades you ask? Because the story is pretty universal and is so much bigger than the one thing the writer focused on. Sex as the single issue to dwell on? That is at best an extremely minimal ‘gaze’ that limits the breadth of a film that I believe deserves a more open acceptance from self identified lesbians and feminists. This is in no way a “lesbian relationship given the Hollywood-style treatment” type of film. If it were, the ending would have been very predictable, and this one is far from that.

  • Isn’t it fun to disagree about culture? And be provoked by a film that is meant to be at least thought-provoking? In the case of “Blue is the Warmest Color” the divide is not at all between critics and audience, as Joey thinks. It started with the actresses themselves (one of them reported feeling about the sex scenes that she felt “like a prostitute”). Then there was the original author Julie Maroh who called the sex “ridiculous,” a mostly “brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into pornography.” From there the controvery spread through lesbian communities just about everywhere. Here is one telling example from the LGTB arts magazine Posture, “Lesbians React to Sex in ‘Blue is the Warmest Color'” which was reprinted by the Huffington Post. The magazine asked four lesbians to comment on the film, and to sum it up, they were not convinced. “I thought it was hot, at the beginning,” said a reviewer named Taylor, “and then it got a little ridiculous when they kept switching sex positions every 10 seconds. And [it] started to feel kind of like an infomercial for a kitchen product, where they’re trying to, like, showcase all the things it can do. Like, ‘Oh, it can chop, it can slice, it can dice and it can mince and puree, and it can eat out your asshole.”
    I couldn’t say it any better — or with more humor!
    There are reasons why in this otherwise note-worthy film the sex stands out the way it does as a “single issue,” and these have to do with culture, art, and gender politics.

  • epochalipsnow says:

    Ok, enough back and forth on this one… We haven’t seen the film yet, but either way, Epochalips chooses to be like Switzerland in these cases!

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