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When art imitates life, and filmmaking is just a job...for some

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When art imitates life, and filmmaking is just a job...for some


“Blue is the warmest colour” may just have won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the first-ever winner of the grand prize to have been based on a graphic novel written in 2010 by teenaged author Julie Maroh, but the manner in which it was made and the way director Abdellatif Kechiche treated his cast and crew has raised a storm in France.

The flashbulbs had barely stopped popping on the Croisette before the reactions started to come in. First of all the author of the original work, Julie Maroh, while expressing her admiration for Kechiche and his film, said she did not agree with the film’s depiction of lesbian sex and said that in her opinion the sex scenes should be reshot. As a lesbian herself she expressed reservations about the way sex was represented, and believed it lacked authenticity. It is written in French, but here is a link to extracts from her blog.

More revealing has been the wave of comments coming from Kechiche’s technical crew, and the spate of websites and blogs satirising Kechiche’s production methods. Again, these are French-language sources.

Shooting for “Blue is the warmest colour” was supposed to last two months. It took five, so it is only to be expected that there were tensions on-set and problems with money. In fact the money ran out, hardly unprecedented on a movie set, and people went unpaid, or were asked to work unpaid.

When the love of art is concerned this may be a small price to pay, but then the director might be expected to show a little gratitude, or handle his employees in a sympathetic manner.

Well, it appears Kechiche handled his lead actresses with sympathy, but no-one else. He was faced with a mutiny by some of his crew, who walked out. Kechiche’s response was to hire interns to add to an already young crew that was already reliant on part-time workers, and pay them less, or not at all. After all, working on a Kechiche movie looks good on a CV. The press got wind of the stormy shoot, and the respected newspaper Le Monde published ahead of the festival, and after Kechiche’s triumph.

Some of the crew complained they would be left waiting for hours until the director felt ready to shoot; at other times they would be asked to reshoot and reshoot again scenes that were supposed to be spontaneous improvisations. Many complained of poor organisation, or of people being terrified of the director’s whims and ready to do anything to keep him happy. A kind of “us and them” atmosphere grew around the director and his coterie, and the others.

One anecdote is particularly telling. Assembled with cast and crew in a kitchen to shoot an interior, Kechiche suddenly decided to offer his actresses a champagne and oyster breakfast. A runner is sent out to do the shopping, and when he returns, director and actresses tuck in to a slap-up feed while everyone else…you guessed it, just milled around and waited for work to start.

In Kechiche’s acceptance speech there were none of the customary ‘thank you’s’ to everyone who had made the film possible, not even a thanks for Maroh. In this case, it seems, art really does imitate life in all its thankless brutishness, in its economic model so dependent on hierarchies, “just in time” production line techniques, and an ultra-flexible eminently exploitable part-time workforce. The French cinema industry is built on such foundations, but its hard edge has always been sweetened by the pleasures of collaborative work and artistic creation.

It appears that the making of “Blue is the warmest colour” was anything but warm for most of those who took part, so maybe filmmaking is not that glamorous and starry a career choice after all. It seems that cameramen, editors, costume designers, and sound engineers are just wage slaves like the rest of us, beholden to their bosses, and with little input in the creative process. In a profession where breaking ranks and speaking out can be the kiss of death for future work it is unusual for such a backlash to come out into the open; significantly most of Kechiche’s critics have chosen to remain anonymous.

This website popped up for example, to poke fun at Kechiche. It is in French, but basically, it has photos of people reacting to news they are working on a Kechiche movie, and is quite amusing.

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