“Portrait” Filmmaker Defends The Male Gaze

Portrait Filmmaker Defends The Male Gaze

A few years ago Cannes was aflutter over the Palme d’Or winning contemporary lesbian romance drama “Blue is the Warmest Color” which hailed from male French filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche. The film was highly praised at the time and earned a lot of fans.

In the years since however the project’s image has been tainted as stories about the production and Kechiche’s behavior on set himself have surfaced. On top of that, Kechiche’s filmmaking has gone down a more leering path to the point that his Cannes entry this year was widely panned for spending most of its runtime focused on jiggling female buttocks and sordidness in “Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo”.

At the same time, another lesbian romance drama – this time a period one – was being widely lauded with female French filmmaker Celine Sciamma and her feature “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” being hailed as one of the year’s greatest films. Both ‘Blue’ and ‘Portait’ approach their stories in very different ways – Kechiche criticised for his inherent overly sexualized ‘male gaze’ while Sciamma’s comes from a more emotional and more sensual ‘female gaze’ perspective which has been argued as being the superior view of a love story.

Speaking to So Film magazine (via The Playlist), Sciamma herself says she enjoys ‘Blue’ and Kechiche’s filmmaking style, and that viewing these two different approaches from the perspective of one being inherently better than another doesn’t help anyone:

“It was extremely interesting to have both our films in competition. Thanks to Kechiche’s film, and to ‘Portrait,’ the French critics were faced with questions of the male and female gaze, and the issues that stem from the act of looking. Kechiche and I make films that act as manifestos about such questions. It is completely stupid to think you can only love one at the expense of the other. To the contrary.

Here’s where certain French critics and viewers are not doing enough deconstructive work. We can absolutely love both films. We do not live up to the exciting nature of this moment if we start reducing everything to questions of ‘good or not good; moral or immoral; voyeur or not voyeur,’ that’s not the point. The key is to understand what animates such images, and what they seek to impart.

I like ‘Blue is the Warmest Color,’ for example, and I thought the sex scenes fit perfectly with Kechiche’s larger project: to depict his relationship with his actresses, and their relationship with one another. That’s fascinating, so long as you remain active, which is essential when watching Kechiche’s films. [We should] avoid base judgments and have the courage to question the gaze – our own, and that of the director. But that requires some effort from the spectator.”

Neon will release the French-language romance “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” in U.S. cinemas on December 6th. Check out the just released U.S. trailer for the film below: