French-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winning Blue is the Warmest Color stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos who deliver outstanding lead performances as two heroines in love whose social differences and aspirations ultimately lead to their break up. Loosely based on Julie Maroh’s 2010 graphic novel, Blue Angel, the NC-17 rated romantic drama features explosively graphic sex scenes and a breakout performance by Exarchopoulos.
During our recent interview, Kechiche talked about how he let his intuition guide him in capturing the relationship between the two women, why writing the script was a continual process even during filming, what Exarchopoulos and Seydoux brought to their roles, why he has an affinity for both characters, how his experience as an actor contributed to the intimacy level he was able to achieve with his actors as a director, and why he feels making a film is like climbing a mountain or crossing an ocean and that each scene is equally challenging. He also revealed he has many projects in various stages of development and looks to his producer, Vincent Maraval, to help guide him in choosing his next film. Hit the jump to read the interview.
Question: What struck me about this film was how universal the story was. Did you experience any challenges in terms of what elements of a relationship you wanted to show and what clichés you wanted to avoid?
ABDELLATIF KECHICHE: I didn’t really think in terms of clichés or non-clichés. My aim was to let my intuition guide me so that these two people would not be seen as two women, but just two people. Very quickly I forgot the fact that these were two women, just as the crew and everyone else involved in the creation of this film forgot that aspect of it. It was really a film about two people having to go through a relationship which everyone knew would lead to a breakup and the pain that that entails. Anybody can see that story, what leads to that, and identify with it. As a filmmaker, I wanted to construct this identification process with the characters so that you fully connect to their emotions and what their breakup [represents]. I was taken aback to what degree the film ended up being about suffering and pain. I had started out with the intent to make a love story and something not so grave or so dark. But it really became about that, about the suffering of this breakup. My previous film (Black Venus) had been very emotionally draining and difficult because I had identified so much with the lead character, Saartjie Baartman. So I went into this saying, “I want to do a love story, not to be seen with rose-colored glasses, but not as heavy.” As it turned out, it surprised me the place where it led actually was something so painful. I identified so much with them that I experienced a lot of that suffering as well.
Was there a lot of detail in the script or were there scenes that were improvised?
KECHICHE: The writing of the script is a continual process. There’s the first draft and then many, many re-writes here and there. But then, when it comes time to make the scenes concrete and shoot them, I want the freedom for it to exist which means adding, subtracting or modifying. The importance is getting to something truthful and in that moment can only be in that moment. I don’t like to use the word “improvise,” but it’s a continual writing of the film. The writing process happens in the filming process as well.
KECHICHE: In the work with my actors, it’s hard to say because I don’t come to work as an actor. There are many directors who can direct without ever having acted and do a great job and connect with their actors and lead them to excellent performances without themselves having had an acting background. What really enthralls me is working with the actor and seeing where you can go with that. It’s in that exchange and that relationship. At the end, I reflected maybe it has been useful to have had that experience, but it’s not necessarily where I’m coming from as a director.
Can you talk about what Exarchopolous and Seydoux brought to their roles? What was it about them that appealed to you and made them the right choice?
KECHICHE: It’s hard to say, but when you see an actor or actress, there has to be some kind of attraction. There has to be the desire to want to work together so intimately and for so much time. What I saw in them was also what they could bring of themselves to the roles, their generosity, and their beauty, not in a physical sense, but in the beauty of who they are and what they could bring to each character. The essential part was not just as individuals, but together, they had to have this magnetism. I had to see there was some potential there for them to have this attraction. Because I wanted it to play out in such a real way, there had to be a potential there that they could experience all the things that their characters do experience. So that was primordial in the choice of these actresses.
KECHICHE: I had affinity for both characters. For Adele, where she’s coming from in the social class — the proletarian working class that I grew up in and identify with and that she works and exists in. And then, on the other hand, Emma is an artist. She wants people to see her work. She has a journey in her art. I identify with that. There’s no preference for either character. They both reflect a certain part of my experience.
What do you feel was the hardest scene to shoot?
KECHICHE: To use an image, making a film is like climbing a mountain or crossing an ocean. Every day has its challenges. There’s not one day that’s more difficult than the other. Every day, there’s that tension and the pressure. Each scene that you shoot is like getting to that next step, but there’s still that mountain to climb. So it’s not like one day is harder or one scene is harder. They are all equally challenging.
There are several beautiful portraits of Adele in the film, who painted those and did Adele have to sit for them?
KECHICHE: She only sat once for an artist, but the DP (Sofian El Fani) took a lot of photographs and then I selected a few. I then gave them to two artists and they created the paintings that you see. But they were mostly based on photographs.
What do you have coming up next?
KECHICHE: I have many projects in various states of development. Some are on paper and some are in my head. But as I go on, I feel the need to be guided in my choices, and this film actually is the result of me talking with my producer Vincent [Maraval]. I gave him a bunch of ideas and then Vincent helped guide me and develop this particular film. I enjoy that rapport to have somebody else help guide me in my choices for the next film. The poetic way of looking at it is which project is going to choose me as a director.