More than four decades after France’s May 1968 revolution’s slogan, “Pleasure without obstruction,” was launched, the omnipresence of sexuality — or rather the liberation of sexuality — in France remains well-known worldwide. Sexuality in France is viewed in every context with regards to its language of seduction, or a notion of eroticization in every act. This omnipresence is often stereotyped by those in the United States, who do not hesitate to claim “More sex please, we’re French.” The movie “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which was released a few months ago in the United States, questions this view of sexuality.
The acclaimed French movie, which won three awards at Cannes this year, recounts the story of a 15-year-old female who discovers her sexuality and starts a new life with a college student whom she fell in love with at first glance. The director, Abdel Kechiche, wanted to portray her discovery with all of its extremes, and did not hesitate to shoot revealing sex scenes at the risk of being criticized by every media source and every person.
Unlike other sex scenes in mainstream cinema, in which only quick shots of breathing, sighing and contact movement are chosen, these ones are disturbing, challenging and unusual. They focus on a certain struggle — passion, long intercourse, and pleasure at its finest — as if every inch of the body and of the soul were invested in this simple act.
While this type of cinematic exploration of sexuality is unusual, especially in the American culture, it has long been portrayed in French movies, particularly (but not only) in movies about teenagers and their newfound desires. In “The Beautiful Person,” the same actress, Lea Seydoux, is presented half-naked amid escalating sexual tension. However, the film received little to no controversy in France.
Similarly, “Stranger by the Lake,” which captures the growing relationship between two men amidst a murder mystery, sparked no controversy or negative comments. The debate around “Blue is the Warmest Color” — which exploded in France as well as the U.S. — might have resulted from the fact that many who saw this movie expected to observe and learn from a growing discovery full of emotional power, but not necessarily to be stimulated or excited.
The controversy surrounding the movie has also been especially fierce because it is one of the first movies to display the relationship between two women without allowing its audience to reduce it to pornography, for it shows how much emotion is felt in a new commitment — in this case, one between two women.
While the movie was produced at a time when the anti-gay movement was losing to the legalization of gay marriage, many remained against gay union, especially towards women. It is not an issue of nudity or sexuality anymore, but an issue about the individuals participating in that sexuality.
This stigma is also noticeably present on Penn’s campus, where gay men are far more visible than lesbians. It seems that the act of a woman loving another woman remains difficult to reveal, as this act is often perceived as a fleeting college experiment rather than a true sexual and emotional commitment. I only discovered this small community on-campus by going to LGBT venues for my friends or The F Word meetings.
Unfortunately, it seems that while this community is not truly seen in a negative light, it still triggers uncomfortable thoughts, judgments and doubts. People often wonder if lesbian women are simply going through a phase, whereas when it comes down to gay men, no one questions the seriousness of their decisions. Apparently, a blue eroticization in cinema and our society remains at the heart of controversy, whether in France, the rest of the world or even on our campus.
Diane Bayeux is a College freshman from Paris, studying English. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her ?@dianebayeux.