Cannes Win for 'Blue is the Warmest Color' Hailed as 'A Symbol' in French Gay Marriage Debate

The Palme d'Or winner traces an intimate love story between two very different woman.
The Palme d'Or winner traces an intimate love story between two very different woman.
 

Sometimes a film is just a film. But when the film wins the Palme d'Or, the top honor in the world's number one film festival, it's inevitable that more will be read into it.

That seems to be the case with Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color, a lesbian love story that won the Cannes top honor Sunday night, just as in Paris anti gay-marriage protestors clashed with French police.

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France's La Liberation newspaper called the win for Blue “a symbol” noting that the film, which stars actresses Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux (who shared the Palme d'Or with their director) in a very explicit love affair, appears “in touch” with the French zeitgeist.

“After long weeks punctuated by outbursts of homophobic gay marriage debates, Blue is the Warmest Color looks directly at its two young heroines not as an anomaly or a curiosity but as a passion taking seed in eternal love,” the paper said.

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Eternal love wasn't much in evidence in Paris Sunday night after mostly peaceful demonstrations by hundreds of thousands against France's newly enacted same-sex marriage law turned ugly, when a few hundred protesters turned on police and TV crews, attacking them with bottles, stones, fireworks and flares. Nearly 300 people were arrested over two days of demonstrations, which began in Paris on Saturday.

The rally was seen as a last-ditch show of force by opponents to the gay-marriage bill, which passed into law May 18. Many believe the demonstrations have also been co-opted by right-wing groups as a general protest against the Socialist government of French President Francois Hollande.

Coming in the midst of all this, awarding the Palme d'Or to a film that explores in intimate detail the love between two women was certain to generate a political echo. Speaking at the press conference after the awards ceremony, however, Cannes jury president Steven Spielberg insisted politics played no role in the decision.

“Politics was not in the room with us,” Spielberg said. “We just all felt (this) was a profound love story. We didn't think about how it was going to play, we just were really happy that someone had the courage to tell this story the way he did...The issue of gay marriage is one that many brave states in America are resolving in a way that suits all of us that are in favor of gay marriage. But I think actually this film carries a very strong message, a very positive message.”

Another Cannes jury member, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, added that the story of Blue is the Warmest Color “went beyond gender...it went beyond politics. People saw beyond that it was a lesbian love affair. It was a love affair that everyone can identify with. And that is what makes it very special that everyone recognized their own relationships, whether they were straight or gay.”

Concluded her fellow juror, two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz:  "It's all been said. Just drop it. It's a love story."

The French people, despite the weekend's protests, might be inclined to agree with him. A survey published on Sunday showed 53 percent of French people support gay marriage and adoption. And France's first official gay wedding is due to take place this Wednesday in Montpellier.

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