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.