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HONG KONG – Palme d’Or-winning director Abdellatif Kechiche discussed his verbal feud with Lea Seydoux and described his achievements as a form of “pseudo-success” amid continuing social class boundaries in France in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter during a visit here.
Talking through an interpreter, Kechiche discussed his career, which has earned him a best first film prize at Venice, two best director awards at France’s Cesar Awards and, of course, Cannes’ top honor with his latest outing, the three-hour romantic drama Blue Is the Warmest Color.
In Blue, working-class Adele (played by newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos) makes desperate attempts to adapt to the milieu of her cultured, middle-class artist girlfriend, Emma (Seydoux).
Asked whether Exarchopoulos was also part of such class dynamics while working very closely with Seydoux for months, Kechiche told THR : “If I were to respond to this, I’d be very nasty.” He added: “And actually, Lea has not had [that much] experience as an actress. She has a lot to learn.”
Kechiche’s comment came after one that he made at a press conference at a hotel in Hong Kong marking his film’s screening at the city’s French Cinepanorama film festival. In the briefing, he said his life as a cineaste has revolved around finding a way to open doors closed to him “because of his social class” — a sentiment he brought to the screen with characters trying to take up theater, bohemianism and entrepreneurship to break away from their working-class roots.
The issue has been a key theme in recent months as the director became embroiled in a verbal feud with his Blue star Seydoux, after the actress described the film’s shoot as “horrible” and the Kechiche as a bully. He then chastized Seydoux’s roots — saying she hails from a clan of media moguls and business tycoons — and suggested she might be manipulated by people in segments of the conservative French press.
“I think I’m a bad example,” Kechiche told THR. “I’m like a farmgirl who gets to marry a prince. And the people would say, ‘You see, it’s possible!’ And then this becomes an illusion. On the contrary, my pseudo-success leads us to think there are actually doors to be opened. But they are very much locked, and that goes for me, too.”
Kechiche’s suspicions of always being seen as an outsider at home were in full view when he pointed out, after being asked about the controversy by an Agence France Presse reporter at the Hong Kong press conference, that Asian audiences had never thought about asking him about the controversy.
Blue is slated for release in Hong Kong on Jan. 2, and Kechiche said a longer version of the film would be shown on French TV and during a single-screen run in France early next year.
“From my experience, there has been an invisible wall, which separates the classes,” Kechiche later said to THR to expand on the issue. “For some of the roles in my films, sometimes there is some kind of condition that prevented them from moving between classes — like some codes [dictating] how they behave. And that’s why they behave in a very complicated way.”
He continued by mentioning that this also plays into his behavior. “For example, just before I spoke, I helped myself to a biscuit, and once I did, I started to ask myself whether it’s correct to do that,” he explained. “I think if I was someone who’s very educated, someone who belonged to the elite, I wouldn’t have asked myself this question…. There’s already a difference between the classes, the difference between ‘being’ it and ‘learning’ it.”
Kechiche said that in France he is “always and still considered as an Arab [first], a filmmaker second,” given his Tunisian ancestry. He was born in Tunisia and moved to France as a child. He also argued that his working-class background was being held against him.
His view matches the unhappy endings of nearly all of his films. For all their attempts to learn Voltaire, start a respectable restaurant or mingle with hipsters, none of his lead characters manage to leave their social origins behind.
And it certainly is the case for Blue Is the Warmest Color‘s Adele, whose teenage rite of passage ends with sadness and defeat as she realizes, in the scene at the film’s end where she attends the opening of Emma’s exhibition in a posh gallery, how her love is doomed because of unsurmountable social differences.
The discussion also touched on his views on education. Adele eventually becomes a schoolteacher in Blue Is the Warmest Color. The director said he sees pedagogy as a “most important key,” which is “very difficult to find and very heavy to carry.”
The comment seems like a fitting return to his closed-door analogy about the establishment. Has he found doors open to him now? “I tried to kick the door open,” he said after a laugh. “And it fell on me — so I didn’t exactly open it.”
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