The Cannes Film Festival is arguably the most important international festival. It offers a wide-angle snapshot of world cinema, as seen by organizers Thierry Frémaux, Gilles Jacob and their team. They consistently propose a heady mix of avant-garde fare, small films and mainstream glamor. The Cannes jury of filmmakers give out half a dozen prizes, culminating in the the Palme d’Or (the golden palm), which was recently awarded to The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick and Amour by Michael Haneke. This year the Palme d’Or was given by a jury headed by Steven Spielberg to Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche .
Léa Seydoux, Abdellatif Kechiche & Adèle Exarchopoulos accepting the Palme d’Or
Cinema of course reflects society, and sometimes Cannes also expresses the zeitgeist, the trends in our culture. This year’s crop included several key films with gay characters including Blue is the Warmest Color & Behind the Candelabra in the Official Selection, and Stranger at the Lake in the sidebar selection (Un Certain Regard).
Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his companion, shows us the relationship between a music star and his young lover, who ends up as his prodigal son. The filmmakers have a lot of fun with Liberace’s kitschy life style, but I was not moved by performances. In any case, the movie succeeds in presenting a historical view of gays in the closet in the 1960s.
Matt Damon & Michael Douglas as Liberace and his companion Scott Thorson
Behind the Candelabra was shot with a Red Epic by Soderbergh (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews), ably assisted by gaffer James Plannette. The film aired on HBO, and has a theatrical release in certain European countries.
A member of this year’s Cannes jury, Ang Lee, directed one of the best movies about secret homosexuals in 2005: Brokeback Mountain, with cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. The understated tale of the impossible love between two cowboys in the closet won 3 Oscars, including Best Director.
The Stranger at the Lake by French director Alain Guiraudie shows contemporary gays meeting to hook up around a lake in the summer. The film’s hero falls for a stranger, and oddly is even more attracted to him after he sees him murder someone. The elegant, simple mise en scène deftly combines the themes of desire and death, and the story unfolds as an erotic thriller. The movie’s sex scenes are hardcore, which will definitely be an obstacle to wide distribution in many territories.
A still from Stranger at the Lake
Stranger at the Lake is made by a gay director, who briefly appears nude in one of the opening scenes. Guiraudie was awarded Best Director by the jury for the Un Certain Regard sidebar. The widescreen film is beautifully shot in 35mm by cinematographer Claire Mathon, using an Arri LT and Cooke S4s.
the palme d’or
For me, Blue is the Warmest Color, the 3-hour film of a lesbian love story by Franco-Tunisian Abdellatif Kechiche, is astounding: intimate, heart-breaking, erotic, beautiful. This movie is a masterpiece.
Adèle Exarchopoulos is extraordinary in the title role of a teenager who discovers her sexuality, wonderfully supported by Lea Seydoux, as the woman who becomes her first love. Kechiche succeeds in creating a rare authenticity as he follows the relationship in a series of long scenes, with a documentary style cinematography by Sofian El Fani. The film was shot with 2 Canon C-300s.
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux
Many critics agreed that Blue is the Warmest Color deserved the Palme d’Or, and that the 2 women also deserved to share the Best Actress award; however Cannes rules forbid awarding both prizes to a single film. The jury headed by Steven Spielberg got around this rule by taking the unusual step of awarding the Palme d’Or to “three artists”, and inviting the director and the two lead actresses on stage. The audience in the huge Lumière auditorium gave the trio a lengthy standing ovation, a rarity with this industry crowd.
The Palme d’Or was awarded on the same day as a big Parisian demonstration protesting the French gay marriage bill which had been adopted the week before. During the jury press conference after the awards, reporters repeatedly asked about the politics of the Palme, while the jury members kept going back to cinema.
The jury for the Main Competition (click for details)
“There was no politics in the room, said jury president Steven Spielberg.” He praised Kechiche, saying “We were privileged to be invited to see a great love story… He let his players breathe”.
Director Cristian Mungiu added “the rewards are for cinema, not for a political statement”, and praised Kechiche’s “desire to go beyond the limits of cinema, and to test the limits of cinema.” Finally, exasperated by the persistence of political questions, actor Christoph Waltz blurted out to the assembled press: “It’s all been said. It’s a love story guys, so stop it!”.
As a heterosexual I imagine that gays have something to say about straight people telling a story about homosexuals. Blue is the Warmest Color was directed by a man and stars two heterosexual women. The film is based on an autobiographical graphic novel by Julie Maroh, who wrote in her blog that she thought the movie was a “master stroke”, but was disturbed by the inauthenticity of the sex scenes, adding that there appeared to be “a shortage of lesbians on the set”.
Detail from graphic novel Blue is a Warm Color by Julie Maroh (click for full page)
Perhaps the filmmakers should have sought out some sexual advisors! But that is a detail. Although the softcore nude scenes were often mentioned in the press, they are not the heart of this film. The power of Blue is the Warmest Color comes from the raw emotion of its simple story of first love.
Maroh comments in her blog that her goal in creating the graphic novel was to “make lesbians banal”. This year’s Palme d’Or may contribute to do just that: to make a love story between lesbians, just another love story.
Cinema doesn’t just reflect society, sometimes it also changes it.
Behind the Candelabra
Trailer on Vimeo
Cannes 2013 Jury Press Conference video