A Blue Breakfast

Seydoux and Exarchopoulos talk about their movie between bites of egg

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

blue

Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos are hungry. Not for awards, fame or reverence. Just breakfast.

I met the leads of the controversial drama Blue Is the Warmest Color in a hotel in Toronto during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Right off the bat, one of their handlers asks if I’d mind the girls having breakfast while we do the interview. It’s not really a question; they look like they’ll rip my head off if I say no.

Blue won the Palme d’Or in Cannes last May, but the relationship between the two stars and director Abdellatif Kechiche soured considerably in the months that followed. In a damning interview, Seydoux revealed Kechiche hired her for two months of work that became five and a half, and abused his position of power throughout. In turn, the filmmaker called her an “arrogant, spoiled child” and questioned her skills.

All this nastiness came mere days before Blue’s North American premiere at TIFF.

Seydoux doesn’t seem spoiled at all, despite her family links to both the Pathé and Gaumont film companies. Clad in jeans and a leather jacket, she seems comfortable in her own skin, and fair enough: Seydoux’s been in the media circus for almost a decade, and nothing seems to flummox her.

Exarchopoulos, on the other hand, is new to the business and clearly more concerned with appearances. She’s prim and proper and chooses her words carefully.

Both their performances in Blue have been called “brave” by multiple reviewers, but Exarchopoulos doesn’t feel all that courageous.

“We were just doing our work,” she says. “I understand why people say that because of the sex scenes and all, but we wanted to do it.”

Seydoux doesn’t use the word “brave” either, but she does talk about fear as motivation.

“We were scared during the climactic scene, because all our work was leading to that moment. It couldn’t just be good — it had to be great. We used that fear. We gave everything we had,” she says.

Seydoux’s English is heavily accented but impeccable; Exarchopoulos is more apprehensive, although she doesn’t often need the translator who’s with us.

Breakfast arrives and their attention shifts to the scrambled eggs. Seydoux immediately digs in and answers questions with her mouth full, while Exarchopoulos waits for the focus to shift towards Seydoux before taking a bite.

I ask them if the film, with its frank depiction of lesbianism, is perceived differently in North America than in Europe. “Maybe you guys are more tolerant, or more used to seeing these kind of films,” says Exarchopoulos. That might sound counterintuitive, but Seydoux points to the massive protests against same-sex marriage in France as proof that homophobia is still rampant there.

In Blue, the camera is constantly on Exarchopoulos’ face (“and on her ass,” Seydoux snorts, to Exarchopoulos’ annoyance), but it didn’t bother her as much as she thought it would.

“I tried not to think about it. Eventually you forget the camera is there. I didn’t realize [Kechiche] wanted to capture every single detail.”

Seydoux immediately pipes up with: “Every breath you take, every move you make…” and both break into song. This is awkward.

While we never openly discuss Seydoux’s dissing of Kechiche, the issue lingers throughout the entire conversation. The very controlling director of Blue is the Warmest Color is clearly light years away from the detached style of Woody Allen, whom Seydoux worked with in Midnight in Paris.

“I like to be felt; I want to be seen as an actress and as a human being,” she says. “A director is someone who plays with your emotions, and I want them to have my back if I allow them to do it.”

Asked how the extended shooting affected their lives, Exarchopoulos admits she couldn’t shake off the character easily.

“We went to sleep poised, we woke up poised. Even after we finished we couldn’t cut the link. The movie was shot chronologically, so the more emotional second half took a toll on me.”

They both say they felt like different people at the end of the shooting.

“I changed, but I can’t say how,” says the ever-coy Exarchopoulos. “It was so intense, easily my deepest experience in front of a camera,” says Seydoux. “Now I feel ready for anything.”

Both also agree the outcome was worth the effort, frustration and controversy aside.

“When working on a film becomes difficult, I try to focus on the movie as a piece of art. I’m at the service of it,” says Seydoux.

Despite that, Seydoux repeatedly stated she won’t ever work with Kechiche again.

Exarchopoulos isn’t as clear-cut — especially because the film’s French title (La Vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 & 2) implies the possibility of a sequel.

“It’s just there to suggest the story of Adèle can continue in your head. It’s open-ended, so it’s up to you,” she says.

Pressed on whether she’d be willing to return for further chapters, Exarchopoulos says only, “We’ll see.”

Towards the end of our allotted time, I ask Seydoux how hard it is to promote Blue in the company of Kechiche, but before she can answer, the translator says, “Time’s up!” Well played, clever translator, and soon enough I’m on my way out — but then Seydoux approaches me and extends her hand graciously. As I shake it, she murmurs, “What do you think?”

This girl is rock and roll.

In the lobby, I see Abdellatif Kechiche having an agitated conversation with someone. He reminds me of Gordon Ramsay. I say nothing.

[hr]

THE COLOUR OF AWESOME

Blue Is The Warmest Color
Rainbow Cinemas Studio 7
4.5 / 5

Blue Is the Warmest Color is best known for its scorching sex scenes, but it’s got a lot more to offer than titillation.

The love story between Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux) is complex, although in a familiar way. Issues like fading passion and the irreparability of broken trust are tackled head-on. (It’s no wonder relationships exploded during the making of the film.)

Blue is supposed to be the first chapter of a young woman’s romantic history. We meet Adèle in high school: an average teenager, her approach to love and sex is tentative and guarded. But all that caution goes out the window when she meets Emma, a 20-something artist. Emma’s in a relationship, but the pair are drawn to each other like magnets, consequences be damned.

The initial hook-up turns into a multi-year relationship, but domesticity replaces desire, and ambition (or lack thereof) creates a rift between the girls: Emma is driven, goal-oriented and fails to understand Adèle’s simple ways. Down the rabbit hole, the lovers find themselves in an epic quarrel that makes the argument between Jesse and Celine in Before Midnight look tame.

As has been extensively reported, director Abdellatif Kechiche put Exarchopoulos and Seydoux through hell for the length of the shooting. I’m not justifying his methods, but the performances he pulled out of both of them are astounding. Seydoux in particular — often a morose presence in other movies — has never looked more vital.

Blue is a unique, wonderful film. You just need to look beyond the hype to fully appreciate it. /Jorge Ignacio Castillo

2013-12-26