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May 30, 2013


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"The simulation of sex acts has become more realistic via the use of prosthetics (see Catherine Breillat's Sex Is Comedy ... There is also a mild trend toward unsimulated sex."

See Catherine Breillat AGAIN - aka Romance back in 1999.

And when you toss Anatomy of Hell into the mix, I aver that Breillat is more central to your entire topic than is represented in this current draft.


I haven't seen this either, obviously. My one point, which might be less relevant than I think it is, is that for quite a while, several male filmmakers have been applauded, in a sense, for "putting their dick[s]" on screen (as I believe one critic of BLUE said about it and Kechiche). I'm talking about Russ Meyer and Polanski and fetishists like Bunuel and Hitchcock and bunches more. So why is THIS movie the one, or one of the ones, where doing that is not okay? According to some.

When I see it, maybe I'll know, or not. Etc.


Not sure if it's my comment on the snot you're referring to, but if so, that was in response to Sasha Stone's remark that a couple of male critics she saw after the screening were visibly "hot and flushed." Which I still find unlikely, as the handful of sex scenes all occur at least 90 minutes before the movie ends. It's not that the tears and snot somehow cancel out any previous prurient interest, just that they're what you walk out of the theater having most recently experienced. I doubt that actually jerking off to hardcore porn would be discernible to someone seeing you 90 minutes later, especially if you'd been watching Scenes From a Marriage in between.

As for the ignoble motives you ascribe to those defending the film, well, y'know, that's just, like, your *opinion*, man. All I can tell you is that, having seen the film, I honestly have no idea what Manohla is talking about when she asserts that Kechiche is oblivious to real women. I'd respond similarly to someone making that claim of, say, Le Beau Mariage. It's entirely possible that (as Julie Maroh has complained) the sex scenes themselves are rather fanciful and hetero-normative; I'm not in a position to argue otherwise (alas). But all the predictable fuss notwithstanding, those scenes are a small part of a rather long movie—one that I'd like almost as much were its sex scenes excised, honestly. There's plenty else to admire.

Andrew Bemis

I made a film a few years ago that featured explicit nudity and simulated sex from my two female leads (when I heard the Cannes news, my first thought was "Should have sent my movie to Spielberg after all"). In editing those scenes, I put a great deal of thought into how much to show and what including or excluding each shot and angle would say about my intentions. Any filmmaker who approaches this kind of material should have a strong sense of personal responsibility to his actors and audience, as Kechiche probably does. That said, if anyone misread my intentions as sexist or prurient, or suggested that I'd misunderstood the real thoughts and experiences of women, I'd really have no choice but to shrug, admit that it's a fair thing to suggest, and maybe privately get in touch with that critic and strike up a conversation. And I'd feel very embarrassed if anyone defended me the way they've defended Kechiche's film.


To follow up on a brief reference in md'a's comment: The Guardian today had a nicely paired couple of articles that included a summary of a blog post by the author of BITWC's source graphic novel and a response. Maroh, the author, echoes Dargis to a degree with her difficulties with the sex. Four days ago she wrote a very brief entry thanking the many people who had written to her with congratulations, and promising eventual comment. And the eventual comment was, well, anyone who thought that the portrayed sex was sexy wasn't a lesbian, and the resultant scenes were effectively a straight person's porn. Bradshaw, the defender of the film Kenny cites above, is given a chance to reply to this criticism, but to my mind doesn't marshall much of a defense: he found it "sexy, passionate and moving, in that narrative order."

My own definition of "porn" has always been primarily informed by dim memories of research into Miller v. California in high school. If Maroh states that the sex scenes are in keeping with Kechiche's overall filmic style — even if it's not her own — then I'm not sure the "no artistic merit" definition can be leveled against it. But perhaps a desire to find elevating merits can blind critics to their own particular peccadilloes?

As is often the case with SCR, I'm sure this debate will flower repeatedly in the public sphere with the eventual staggered international releases.

Jeff McMahon

Sorry to learn about your friend, Glenn.


@Benjamin: The difference is that Maroh takes issue only with the sex scenes. She seems very pleased with the film as a whole, even as she notes that it reflects Kechiche's sensibility much more than her own (which, to her credit, she notes is as it should be). Manohla, on the other hand, seems (from her admittedly brief notes in what's just a journal entry, not a proper review) to dismiss the entire film primarily on the basis of those sex scenes, since the prurience factor is all she addresses. And Glenn, while admitting that he's speaking from a position of ignorance (not yet having seen the film), seems oddly eager to assume that she's right and that all the critics who loved the film (several of whom are gay males, by the way) are applauding with their dicks. There may be valid reasons to dislike the two hours and 40 minutes (minimum) of non-sexual material in this picture, but if so, let's hear 'em. Unsupported assertions that Kechiche doesn't understand women, and corresponding assumptions that those who disagree are "boys" essentially seeking validation for the magazines stuffed under their mattresses, do not constitute criticism.


This piece is a lot more thoughtful than Glenn Greenwald's first attack on ZERO DARK THIRTY, but at base, I'm getting a similar vibe - Glenn hasn't seen BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, but he's suspicious of it based on the responses of some of the men who have defended it. So Manohla Dargis dislikes it. Other women, such as Stephanie Zacharek, have praised it. What's a feminist ally to do?


@Glenn We're hashing some of this out on Twitter right now, but I want to say here that the "not criticism" bit was more directed at Manohla than at you. And I like Manohla a lot, we're very friendly. But I do think calling a filmmaker "oblivious to real women" is much too serious a charge to be made with no backup whatsoever, and I'd say that to her face. That people who haven't seen the film are accepting it at face value bothers me.

Chris L.

Since I don't have a Twitter account, this might be a decent opportunity to thank Mike D'Angelo for his sharp and amusing reports from Cannes, not only this year but the past several. That's what originally led me to his website, with its labyrinth of lists and capsule reviews, and his writing for other outlets. I've thoroughly enjoyed all of the above.

Of Kechiche's work, I've only seen Secret of the Grain, but it sounds like he's stirred up similar objections before, at least for Ms. Dargis. I imagine she'll expand on these ideas in useful ways when the film opens - although the offending scenes may be tamed by that time. (I'd also like to see someone contrast Kechiche's methods with another prizewinner, "Stranger by the Lake," reportedly just as explicit with its male characters.)


For some reason my first comment hours ago did not post, or else we could have saved a lot of time and tetchy argument. Mike and I have hugged it out in the Twitterverse, but I should address what turned out to be something of a miscalculation here as well. I very deliberately only directly cited Bradshaw and Wells, and wanted to base the remainder of my observations concerning the Dargis assertion and its pushback on an impression drawn from a kind of aggregate. My point being, regardless of who ends up in "the right," when a female critic makes a complaint relative to the assertion of male privilege, the response does itself no favors if it gives the impression of being itself a form of an assertion of male privilege. My other point is that whether or not I or other males like it, responding "I'm not that guy" does not in and of itself solve the problem. History, I think, obliges us to work harder. Mike's point with respect to Manohla's assertion is that she hasn't proved it. And of course very few people, myself included (I can't stress that enough) haven't even seen the film in question. But even aggregates conceived in good faith are contrivances, and fallible, and while I didn't want to hit Mike with the "J'accuse" hammer it looks as if I did anyway. Which, aside from creating regrettable ruffled feathers, also distracts from what I wanted the larger point of the piece to be.

I allow that I might have been better off keeping my powder dry (until fall, Jesus!) but the topic is one I give a lot of thought to (I hope that's evident) and I thought that if I took enough care I might be forgiven for jumping the gun. And except for the toes I directly stepped on, I didn't want to step on any toes, but I suppose that's impossible in this manifestation of our information age.


Thanks much, Chris.

Stranger By The Lake is even more explicit than Blue Is The Warmest Color (though it reportedly uses body doubles for the most graphic shots, which Kechiche clearly does not). And there is much, much more sexual content—the entire film is set in a cruising spot, and most of the characters (all men) are nude from start to finish. Nobody seems troubled by this, perhaps because men aren't sexually objectified elsewhere to the ludicrous extent that women are. Plus, Guiraudie is a gay man himself, so you can't credibly accuse him of exploiting other people's sexual preferences for his own jollies.


It would help if any of Dargis' huffiest critics gave any indication whatever of familiarity with her work. Truthfully, I haven't read every retort (not enough hours in the day, clearly), but Richard Porton's in The Daily Beast is far from encouraging. Ascribing 'ideological blinders' to a critic who gave a glowing review to Shortbus (speaking of real orgasms) strikes me as a bit of a stretch. Not to mention it blows to pieces the notion that Dargis believes the sex scenes 'are unacceptable because they’re the handiwork of a male director.'

This episode reminds me of another critical juxtaposition courtesy of Dargis--concerning Gaspar Noe's Irreversible. As something of a fan, Roger Ebert called it 'unflinchingly honest about the crime of rape' and ended his review by explicitly calling it 'not pornography. In contrast, Dargis came down on its most infamous scene thusly: 'This isn't a realistic rape in all its venal banality; it's an aestheticized, sexualized pantomime of a rape.'

Obviously, very few of us having seen the film in question, a lot of this debate so far boils down to 'Who you gonna trust?' Considering how blithely some are dismissing 'feminist fury' isn't encouraging.

Also not helping its reputation as 'not pornography' is the report that the scene features 'impressive scissoring.' The prevalence of scissoring is a male pornographic myth if ever there was one. Maybe this is what Dargis meant by 'oblivious.'


You learn something new every day: in this case the meaning of "scissoring" in a non-censorial context... O.o

Keith Uhlich

Having seen the film in question, I can report that the sex is not just scissoring (news flash: people tend to rub their groin parts together when they're fucking), and there was never a moment where I felt Kechiche was shallowly getting off on anything he was showing. I was more happy to see sex portrayed in all its ecstatic messiness, i.e. one position does not naturally lead to another, and we often look ridiculous doing it, even as the pleasure is beyond compare. The sex scenes inform the character of Adele, and there's much more to her besides that.

My own criticism of the film, a personal preference, really, is that it's all gritty verisimilitude, absent any poetic flourishes. (It suggested to me a more dour "Goodbye First Love.") So I more admired the movie from a distance than embraced it.

All this said, I'm sure Manohla has good reasons for seeing what she sees. Differences of opinion and all, and I'm interested to see if she'll expound on it at a future date.

Keith Uhlich

"Expand on it" would be better. My kingdom for a copy editor.

Brian Dauth

@Glenn: It is probably less ideology and more what you call "direct and/or unique experience" that comes into play here. From the back-and-forth that I have read, there is a frequent lack of transparency about the sexual orientation/positionality of those involved. For example, are either Dargis or Kechiche queer? That a particular scene in a movie can be erotically charged/arousing is nothing new -- heck, I was amazed to find myself aroused by Antonioni's IDENTIFICATION OF A WOMAN when I first saw it at the NYFF. I was equally amazed by being aroused by a lesbian sexual encounter I witnessed when I was in a poly play space (back before the morality police shut such places down). Those who are defending Kechiche need to be more transparent about the place their admiration is emanating from. Is it that they find the female body engaged in a same-sex encounter particularly erotic?

Dargis, however, does herself no favors by using the term "real women." What does she mean by that? Are my MTF friends and colleagues real women? The term "real women" has a long and ugly history of transphobic uses by the cis-gendered community. Dargis, like her detractors, muddies the waters by not being forthcoming about her positionality.

Dargis seems to have been engaged more by the camera and its placement in the sex scene than by what was enacted in front of it -- the scene may not be erotic for her -- a thought that crosses my mind when she writes that Kechiche "seems so unaware or maybe just uninterested in the tough questions about the representation of the female body that feminists have engaged for decades." What she does not say is that the scene is a (rare) representation of female bodies engaged in same-sex activities, writing as if the bodies could be/should be disengaged from the desires they are enacting.

Are Kechiche female nudes writhing merely for the camera, or are they also writhing for each other? The answer will depend on the positionality of the spectator (we cannot read Kechiche's mind on the subject -- just express our own response to the form and content of the scene as we a) experience it and b) understand its placement in the continuum of such depictions). Has Dargis' "direct and/or unique experience" positioned her to detect both potentialities I outline above? All heterosexual sex scenes I have witnessed look to me like writhings for the camera (the Antonioni excepted). But then again, I am a hard Kinsey 6 queerboi, so my appreciation is restricted.


The beginning of 'Performance' ('Performance', not 'Don't look now') is the greatest sex scene ever. BOLD STATEMENT.

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