One of the most controversial movies at the just concluded Cannes Film Festival was avant- garde Franco-Tunisian helmer, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Mektoub My Love: Intermezzo in French. Unlike his earlier Blue is the Warmest Colour, a lesbian tale which had a great story, a great screenplay and great message that helped it to win the Palme dÓr in 2013 – Kechiche’s latest outing has very little of these.
Part of the Festival's prestigious competition, Mektoub My Love... had precious little to say in all its three-and-a-half hours of run time (the Festival cut about 30 minutes just before it was screened), except taking us on a voyeuristic voyage. A liberal display of female bottoms on the beach that took about 30 minutes followed by one long scene in a night club – where girls and boys gyrate to the beat of music. They dance body to body, kissed all and sundry, and finally the movie takes us inside a toilet for a 20-minute scene of unsimulated oral sex. No holds-barred!
Watch Mektoub My Love: Intermezzo trailer here:
Was there a story at all? Yes, there was. A trace of it. Kechiche did manage to weave in one. Amin (Shaiin Boumedine) is a shy student deeply in love with Ophelie (Ophelie Bau) – who is having an affair with Tony (Salim Kechiouche) even while she is engaged to Clement, who is away on military service. Not just this; she is pregnant with Clement's child and wants to abort it – and seeks Amin's help. She wants to go with him to Paris to get this done, and does not want her parents or Clement to know about it.
Unfortunately, Kechiche throws away a plot that could have been developed with some sensible scripting. Instead, he takes a viewer through hours of blaring music and dance which are purely sexy, not erotic – and they lead to what is undeniably pure pornography. Obviously, Kechiche wants to shock his audiences, a route he started to take with Blue is the Warmest Colour, although here the story was strong enough and did not allow itself to be overshadowed by a few sex scenes.
But soon after Blue is the Warmest Colour opened, there were reports of Kechiche having ill-treated its two leading actresses, Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos.
Similarly, there is a controversy now about Mektoub My Love.. A French paper, Midi Libre, has alleged that Kechiche resorted to unorthodox methods to push his actors to perform oral sex. The actors were clearly unwilling.
But were the actors not given advance scripts or were they kept in the dark about this? Here lies the answer.
A tweet translating part of the publication reads, "Kechiche absolutely wanted a non-simulated sex scene, something the actors didn’t want to do. But by the way of insistence, and over time and with alcohol being regularly consumed, he managed to get what he wanted."
The respected French paper, Li Figaro, came with more details: "The director had the scenes of the night club replay for hours and hours, exhausting all the actors and the filming was prolonged very late at night, begins the informant of the newspaper. He absolutely wanted to get to have a sex scene not simulated, which the actors were not willing. But as he insisted over the hours and while alcohol was regularly consumed on the spot, he managed to get what he wanted."
And David Ehrlich in his review in IndieWire wrote, "Ophelie Bau had roughly 389 alcoholic drinks over the course of the night that follows, and every one of them makes it feel as though she’s trying to force her own hand."
What is the truth. Difficult to say. But that Bau did not attend the photo call or the press conference after Mektoub My Love.. was screened may be telling point. It is possible that the actors were not treated well.
For Kechiche, this is history repeating itself. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos had similar grievances when they were shooting Blue is the Warmest Colour.
My question is, why did a Festival as renowned as Cannes pick a film like Mektoub My Love...!
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered Cannes close to 30 years)