Earlier this year, director Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. This honor alone made this French lesbian drama into one of the hottest, most anticipated movies of the year for cinephiles all over the world. Based off of "Blue Angel" by Julie Maroh, the three hour drama that follows two lovers has been getting a lot of praise as well as some backlash for its depiction of homosexual couples. With the film mostly receiving acclaim and the American release date only a month away, the film has the capability of becoming one of the most talked about foreign films of the fall.
I will admit that I had very little knowledge or interest to see Blue is the Warmest Color prior to it winning the Palme d'Or. In fact, it is the sole reason that I am curious to check it out. I am not an expert on foreign films and I cannot tell you how to predict the Best Foreign Film nominees, as my top 10 last year featured Holy Motors and Rust & Bone, neither of which made the cut. However, it is during this time of year that I catch up on titles that have been buzzed about whether all year or in the closing months. Along with a few titles coming out of TIFF (Under the Skin, Why Don't You Play in Hell?), I end up having to catch them on rentals.
While there was an international trailer released a month ago for the Cannes winner, I had trouble conceiving a piece around it. The subtitles were incoherent and while it looked good, the lack of visual made my piece almost pointless. They recently released an American trailer, and thankfully it is more cohesive and I am able to make a better piece regarding it. Here's the trailer:
I will admit that it is mostly being sold here by praise from varying critics as well as this year's Cannes judge: Steven Spielberg. The trailer is more of a visual pallet of what's to come, but it does have a breezy tone and suggestion of its timeliness. But what is it about? According to IMDb:
"The story of a young lesbian couple's beginning, middle and possible end."
It is almost too simple to judge the film completely. In fact, this is one of those films that will probably benefit from word of mouth. Every small bit of praise will be able to make it more on the radar. Despite the praise, the bigger question for me is that does it stand any chance at landing in the Best Foreign Film Oscar race? Also, is the Academy able to recognize skill over subject matter?
To answer the latter, I think the Best Foreign Film category is more open to deviant stories simply because they are from different countries. The expectations are different. While we can point to Brokeback Mountain as a film that proved that gay subject matter is capable of winning top prizes, it essentially lost Best Picture to Crash, which felt like an ironic gay bashing by giving it to a white guilt picture. The rest of the selections aren't exactly supportive of openly gay characters. In fact, the closest that a Best Picture winner has come to having central gay characters is Midnight Cowboy, though it was more implicit than explicit.
Still, the Best Foreign Film category has had a few oddballs. The one that keeps coming to mind is Dogtooth, which is a perverse love affair involving a family who never left the house. It was quite a trip and at times rather gruesome. With this in mind, a story based around lesbians seems like a more acceptable subject matter. I am sure that with the acclaim under its belt, it will have an easier time getting into the race.
|Left to right: Adele Exarchopoulos and Seydoux|
Then there are bigger issues at hand that are more taboo and have kept films out of the races before. It isn't so much that it is a gay narrative, but more about the infamy. There are reported explicit lesbian sex scenes that have garnered the film an NC-17 rating. While they initially planned to edit the film for an R-rating, they kept the NC-17 and created one of the biggest struggles for the film. It didn't matter that the film's length would clock in at close to three hours. That MPAA rating hasn't actually been friends with the Oscars possibly ever.
The closest that NC-17 ever got to winning an award was for Midnight Cowboy, which is the only X-rated film to hold that honor. At the time, X wasn't specifically a pornographic rating. While Midnight Cowboy's frivolous use of drugs and sex is tame by today's standards, and was eventually given an R-rating, it set a bar for a time that feels long forgotten. Maybe in the 70's, a film with that dark of a subject matter could have won, but nowadays with the Academy skewering to older voters, the subjects can't exactly be as bleak as they used to be. Even if a movie's X rating was changed to an NC-17 in 1990, that doesn't mean that the distance from pornography made voting easier.
The last notable example of a film getting in trouble with an NC-17 rating that should have received nominations was director Steve McQueen's Shame. Dealing with sex addiction, the film managed to score some Golden Globe nominations, but was controversially kept out of the Oscars either because of its content and graphic nudity, or the astigmatism that goes with the rating. Even Blue Valentine teetered on the verge of an NC-17 for sexual subject matter only to eventually be slapped with an R after some appealing to the MPAA. Many other films have tried to compete in this category, but there's many issues. Notably, the rating prohibits anyone under 17 to attend a screening, which cuts out many of the bigger theater chains and it cuts down on major advertisements. Thus, they are not profitable enough and therefore the NC-17 could be seen as a death knell. As much as I like to claim that the Academy doesn't have this issue with foreign films, I feel like human sexuality is still a tough subject for them to address in any category.
I will admit that the Academy has continually gotten more progressive and Brokeback Mountain was a nice start. There was even Milk that came out later on and got Sean Penn an Oscar for playing a homosexual. While it could have helped that he was established and therefore more respected, it was still a milestone that proved that anything can happen. Even the prospect that 12 Years a Slave is going to sweep the Oscars this year suggests that more minorities are being recognized, and that is awesome.
I have no real advice on the success of Blue is the Warmest Color, as it will have to face all of the struggles of NC-17 films. Either way, I am curious to check it out and see if it is as good as the Palme d'Or moniker suggests. Even on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 95%, which is not too shabby. With most people already praising it, I feel like it will have enough longevity to make it to the next level. Maybe it won't be a financial success story nor will it become a mainstream point of conversation, but the Best Foreign Film category has always been one of the more risque slots. Until I find reasonable competition, I am really looking forward to this one.
Is Blue is the Warmest Color capable of being a nominee? Are the performances going to be great enough to compete against more mainstream American entries? Does the Palme d'Or mean anything to voters?