Director Abdellatif Kechiche: Why I'm Selling My Palme d'Or (Exclusive)

Abdellatif Kechich Cannes - H - 2013
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The director of 'Blue Is the Warmest Color' explains his decision to sell off his trophy, and art works from the film, to finance his new movie.

French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche has spoken publicly for the first time on his decision to auction off his Palme d'Or, as well as several items from the set of Blue Is the Warmest Color, to raise money to finish his latest movie.

In an exclusive email interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kechiche explained how he came to the radical decision after the financiers of his upcoming film, Mektoub, My Love pulled their backing when the movie was in postproduction. The film is based on the novel La blessure, la vraie, from French writer Francois Begaudeau, whose book Entre Les Mures was adapted by Laurent Cantet as the Palme d'Or-winning and Oscar-nominated The Class in 2008.

Mektoub, My Love follows Amin, a young screenwriter who returns to his Mediterranean hometown for a summer vacation. There he meets and falls in love with Jasmine. He also meets a producer who agrees to finance his first film. When the producer's wife shows interest in Amin, the young writer is forced to choose between her, Jasmine or his career. Kechiche completed initial photography on the drama, featuring up-and-coming French actors Lou Luttiau, Shain Boumedine and Ophelie Bau. But before he could complete postproduction, his backers balked.

“After the film shoot, my financial partners were nervous to learn that the finished work did not correspond to the contract we had signed,” Kechiche says. “I had signed up for one two-hour film, but the final work just so happens to be a diptych in two chapters of three hours each. After five months of negotiations, Pathe Film, the distributor, preferred to void the contracts.”

Kechiche says following that move, Cofiloisirs, one of the main lenders for the film, suspended payments, forcing the director to halt postproduction.

“I have not yet finished the postproduction of the film and, while waiting for the legal problems to be resolved, I put up for auction anything that could help us finish our work,” Kechiche says.

Kechiche says he has always had trouble financing his movies in France, despite his critical, and sometimes commercial, success. Blue Is the Warmest Color earned more than $8 million in France alone and some $2.2 million in the U.S., despite being released under an NC-17 rating for its explicit sex scenes.

“It took me three years to rub together only half of the budget that I needed to finish this film (Mektoub, My Love). I encounter a hostility in the French cinema of today since I do not belong to this family, which does not hesitate to express its disdain toward me,” the director notes. Kechiche is hopeful he will still be able to distribute Mektoub, My Love through Pathe ("We are not closing the doors on an agreement with Pathe") but insists he wants to remain independent and release the film he envisioned.

In addition to his Palme d'Or for Blue Is the Warmest Color, Kechiche is auctioning off more than two dozen original paintings featured in the film, several of them from French artists Cecile Desserle and Celia Guibbert. He is also auctioning a pair of original works from the film's star, Lea Seydoux; the pair of Cannon C300 cameras he used to shoot the film; and a copy of Begaudeau's Entre Les Mures with the original notes made by legendary French producer Claude Berri (Germinal, Tess) who had initially planned to adapt the book.

The paintings and other items, can be viewed, and bid on, on the auction website Bonanza. The initial bidding price for the Palme d'Or will be set at $50,000. Initial suggested prices for the other items range from $8,000 for some of the paintings, to $150,000 for the Begaudeau novel. A self portrait by Lea Seydoux as Emma, her blue-haired character in Blue Is the Warmest Color, which the actress made as a gift to Kechiche, is initially priced at $100,000.

“She really worked hard on this painting and when she offered it to me, I know it came from the bottom of her heart,” Kechiche says of the work.

The director, however, says he has no qualms parting with his Palme d'Or — “I'm not attached to objects” — and notes he found the idea of auctioning off his trophy liberating.

Kechiche clashed with the Cannes Film Festival after the fest made the controversial decision in 2013 to award three Palme d'Ors for Blue Is the Warmest Color: one for Kechiche as director and, in a first for Cannes, dual Palmes for actresses Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos. The two actresses became the first-ever non-directors to win a Palme d'Or and the second and third women (after director Jane Campion) to take home Cannes' top prize.

Kechiche said he did not inform the festival before announcing his plans to sell his Palme.

“I do not need [former Cannes president] Gilles Jacob’s blessing when I make a decision,” says Kechiche. “I would rather think it is for him to explain the meaning of this secret ceremony he organized to award the two actresses with two other Palmes d’Or, declaring that they were 'in a small way also the directors of the film,' even though they had publicly insulted me. Does he really think that a director can accept such a disparagement? Why was I not invited to this ceremony? It is very strange. Is it possible to have three Palmes for one film? Who decreed this new rule and on the strength of what? Can one go around giving Palmes on a whim just because one presides over a festival? In that case, why did the Dardenne brothers get only one Palme? Why is this the only film in 70 years to receive three Palmes? What is the real meaning of this triple Palme d’Or? For me, liberating myself from this Palme d’Or is a way of washing my hands of this sorry affair.”

The Cannes Film Festival and Cofiloisirs did not respond to requests by The Hollywood Reporter to comment on this story.