Palme d’Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Color” may still be one of my favorite films of the year, but director Abdellatif Kechiche sure is doing his damnedest to make me sick of hearing about it. His ongoing feud with the film’s stars and Palme co-winners — in particular, Léa Seydoux — has been a hot media topic for a couple of months now, with Kechiche rather melodramatically stating at one point that the film had been tainted and shouldn’t be released. He’s since retracted that particular outburst, but if you thought he was done, you thought wrong.
In an open letter, sprawling over 6,200 words, on French news site Rue 89, Kechiche vents a whole lot further. The letter is titled “To those who wish to destroy ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’,” and while it covers many issues, the section that is unsurprisingly receiving the most media attention is the 600-word one headed “The opportunistic calculations of young Léa.” (I’m not going to lie to you: my French translation skills are adequate, but I’ve got better things to do than wade through the whole thing.)
Referring to Seydoux’s earlier allegations that she felt “trapped” on set and was negligently treated by the director during the film’s challengingly explicit allegations, he writes (my translation):
“As young Léa is full of opportunism, is the (self-)proclaimed star of the moment, and no doubt imagines herself belonging to an untouchable caste that makes her a sort of ‘Princess and the Pea’ figure, she does not feel obliged to explain herself. For the star, it is about her. Not the film. Not even Adèle [Exarchopoulos] … It is enough for her to let her mother speak in her defense, or to declare, with a spoiled child’s arrogance, that she has ‘said what she said,’ that she is not returning to it, that the damage is done. But no! That is not enough. She has obligations that she must fulfil, and I will return to it. It is for her to explain in court, because she is an adult and responsible for her actions.”
Well, this sounds far from over, and no doubt we’ll be hearing plenty more about it, whether he acts upon his threat of legal action against Seydoux or not. But how much of this do we want to hear? Why has it been made our business? The film is a thing of beauty, something of which all its participants deserve to be proud — regardless of the unhappy circumstances behind its production.
The longer Kechiche and Seydoux keep airing their dirty laundry in public, the harder it’s going to be for audiences to dissociate the ugly backstory from the art itself — and even if you make the case for Kechiche’s letter as some kind of perverse publicity measure for the film, I’m not convinced the “all publicity is good publicity” maxim apples here. (“Blue” opens in the US on Friday, and is currently on release in France, where it’s doing big business — as it would always have done anyway.)
Kechiche and Seydoux are hardly the first warring director and actor to have produced a great film amid the conflict. (To a lesser extent, Exarchopoulos counts too: she’s been more diplomatic in her assertions, and evidently has a better relationship with Kechiche, though she joined her co-star in saying that she has no intention of working with him again.) Lars von Trier and Björk. Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. David O. Russell and Lily Tomlin. And plenty of others that we don’t know about because they had the good sense to keep it to themselves.
Unless actual violence or psychological abuse took place on set, harping in public about a personal clash only cheapens your work — and that of your collaborators — for your audience. The film, however arduous it was, is done. You need never work together again. Have words with each other if you must. But at least consider how much of this we really need to know, and how you want your presently much-loved film to be remembered.