Friday, November 29, 2013

Blue is the Most Schizophrenic Color

I was trying to decide if "hypocritical" would have been a better word to use, but I really don't think so.  I'm not sure I can pinpoint the reason why, but "schizophrenic" just seems to fit better in this circumstance.  I don't think it's a matter of hypocrisy, at least not consciously so.

Some prefatory remarks...

I am not a prude when it comes to sexual matters, and I'm certainly no santo innocente.  Ask anyone who knows me...  I've always been a fan of French films as well.   I like their vibe, their pace, and the fact that they rely on thoughtful scripts, story-lines, and carefully drawn-out characters rather than special effects and gimmicks.  In addition, there was this observation I made several years ago in a post I wrote about the film Au Revoir les Infants.
With respect to French films, my wife Anne might wryly add that I'm not likely to be offended by gratuitous skin either. OK. I might be tempted to just laugh, nod, and shrug that off, but you know what? There is something that is simultaneously healthier yet less prurient in the way that the French handle the topic of sex in their films, especially in comparison with the way it's handled in the Anglo world. The tongues spoken by Mediterranean peoples aren't called "romance languages" for nothing. I don't know if "sophisticated" is the right word to use when describing the French treatment of it, but I do know that "puerile" and "sophomoric" are entirely proper words to describe how sex is handled in English-speaking media, particularly in British film and television.
Shifting gears for a moment, I'll also say by way of introduction that as far as the sexual abuse crisis in the Church is concerned, I don't find it very helpful when people attempt to defend the Church by pointing out that in terms of numbers, the incidence rate of pedophilia committed by Catholic priests is similar to or actually better than that which can be found among certain secular professions that deal with children. This is neither a valid defense nor an excuse. Whether it's true or not, it's irrelevant. We make some pretty significant truth claims for ourselves, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard. At least we ought to. Others outside of our own circle certainly do.

Which brings me to the highly acclaimed French film Blue is the Warmest Color.   I have not seen it,  but I'll point out that it has won a number of awards in 2013, including the prestigious Palm d 'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Marnier Fellowship Award at the New York Film Festival, the Best International Independent Film at the British Independent Film Awards, Best Film at the 26th European Film Awards, and Best International Film at the 29th Independent Spirit Awards.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche's film runs about three hours, and is a coming of age film that is typical of the French, but somewhat novel and edgy in that the sexual awakening in question has a lesbian theme.  So far, pretty standard fare for what you might find at Cannes...  What is particularly noted and commented upon is the explicit nature of the sex scenes, including a graphic 10-minute sequence in which the actresses apparently wore prosthetics over their genitals.  Speaking later about the grueling sessions required to shoot that lengthy sequence, actress Léa Sedoux said, “Of course it was kind of humiliating sometimes, I was feeling like a prostitute. Of course, he (Kechiche) uses that sometimes. He was using three cameras, and when you have to fake your orgasm for six hours...  I can't say that it was nothing. But for me it is more difficult to show my feelings than my body.”

Hints of abusive and controlling behavior on the part of the director is one thing, but the main point is this...Actress Léa Seydoux was 27 years old when the film was shot, and that's about how old her character was supposed to be.  Actess Adèle Exarchopoulos was 19 when the film was shot.... but her character in the film was supposed to be only 15 years old.

As I said, I'm not a prude.  I don't have a problem with adults watching films with strongly sexual themes or with a love story that revolves around a lesbian relationship.  I do, however, believe in the protection of children, and I'd urge those who claim to feel the same way to be consistent about it. 

Why is it that the press in both Europe and the USA, which has justifiably beat the Catholic Church about the head and shoulders for its scandal involving pedophilia, giving artistic acclaim to a film that is basically celebrating pedophilia, or at best ephebophilia (which also happens to be what most of those priestly abuse cases involved)? 

Again, I don't think "hypocritical" is quite the right word, although others may disagree with me on that.  To me, it appears to be a sort of schizophrenia in our post-modern culture, especially when it comes to the arts.  Why is it that the Roman Polanskis, Woody Allens, and Abdellatif Kechiches of thw world are given a pass on this sort of thing, when no one else in the world would, secular or religious?


shera10 said...

The cultural divide between Europe and US is wider than the Atlantic ocean, Jeff. Here nobody has associated this movie with pedophilia, not even the Catholic Church. The Italian catholic bishops conference owns a site where they give advice about movies .The movies to be avoid by good faithfuls are labelled as “negatives”. This film is labelled as “ complesso” ( maybe many-sided or composite?) and “with graphic scenes”. Of course the homosexual scenes are described as unacceptable, but solely because homosexual acts, not because phedophilia. A part the homosexual scenes the movie is “ a love story” a “auteur movie”, “it’s a complex movie because the story is similar to the story of many young people that today live a problematic and bitter corporeality, also due to insufficient relantionships with family, school and society”
I wanted to see it, but it never arrived in Aosta Valley

Jeff said...

Hi Cris,

I don't think the film has suffered much criticism here in the USA, and I certainly don't think the American public has a problem with a lesbian love story. I happen to have a problem with it personally, because one of the characters is supposed to be well into adulthood and the other is supposed to be only 15 years old. I'm just puzzled as to why that doesn't bother more people, both here and in Europe.

You bring up an interesting point. Many of the powerful cardinals in the curia are still Italians. Why do they insist on a culture war in the USA when they allow such a live-and-let-live attitude in their own country?

Mike McG... said...

Hey Jeff:

Thanks for this thoughtful post.

Schizophrenia, a 'thought disorder,' is an apt characterization for discourse that would demonize (appropriately so, IMHO) sexual conduct between a adult and a 15 year old when the context is American and Catholic but valorize it as artistic if the ambit is European and secular.

Your good neighbor in Watertown, MA, The Public Conversations Project, is helpful in making sense of such a paradox. They employ a *dominant discourse* template, defining it as "the most generally available and adopted way of discussing an issue in a public context...Dominant discourses strongly influence which ideas, experiences, and observations are regarded as normal or eccentric, relevant or irrelevant."

The public conversation about sexual conduct between adults and youth in some secular and religiously progressive circles conforms to a particular dominant discourse. While not meriting full-throated approval, it may be deemed an often unavoidable feature of sexual awakening and is certainly not worthy of public reprobation.

The defeated and derided competing discourse would hold to strong normative disapproval of such conduct and is characterized in the dominant discourse as hopelessly medieval...eccentric at best and malevolent at worst.

So the culturally conservative and sexually reticent are tagged and loathed as hypocrites by the liberated and sophisticated. But Jon Haidt conveys a great truth on hypocrisy:

“It’s fun to laugh at a hypocrite, and recent years have given Americans a great deal to laugh at…Scandal is great entertainment because it allows people to feel contempt, a moral emotion that gives feelings of moral superiority while asking nothing in return. With contempt you don’t need to right the wrong (as with anger) or flee the scene (as with fear or disgust). And best of all, contempt is made to share…Tell an acquaintance a cynical story that ends with both of your smirking and shaking your heads and voila, you’ve got a bond.

“Well, stop smirking. One of the most universal pieces of advice from across cultures and eras is that we are all hypocrites and in our condemnation of others’ hypocrisy we only compound our own."

Perhaps a recognition of shared hypocrisy...both Europeans and Americans, Catholics and secularists, the sexually emancipated and the sexually inhibited...might set us free.

shera10 said...

Ciao Jeff,
I don’t know any Italian curial cardinals that “ insist on a culture war in the USA and allow a live and let live attitude here in Italy”. Those that acted in this way were Benedict, backed by people as Dolan and especially card Burke that continues to act so.
Now B16 has gone .Saturday Prodi, former Italy first minister and former president of the government of the European Union, belonging to the left party, and a man strongly pro-choice, has received a laurea honoris causa by a Catholic University. The ceremony , including the Prodi’s “lectio magistralis”, was held in Vatican at the Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze.
The news in the Italian newspapers got two lines….

Jeff said...

Hi Cris... Up until now, for the last couple of decades, the American bishops appointed out of Rome were chosen for their doctrinal orthodoxy and obedience. We don't choose them ourselves. There are still a few conservative Italian cardinals who've had influence on the process, like Scola, Sodano, Bertone, Pacienza, Tettamanzi, and others. I think Rome still thinks they can have a chance at political and cultural influence in America, whereas they've given up on trying to shape Italy.

Jeff said...

Hi Mike,

The Public Conversations Project is run out of Watertown? I had no idea. That really is literally almost next door to us.

That was one of the reasons I was hesitant to use the word "hypocrisy." It can easily be turned around on almost anyone, plus it seems to imply a bit of malice or cynicism that I don't see here in this circumstance.

In regard to this particular film, I wonder if the lesbian theme gives it a pass it might not have had otherwise. It's somehow seen as less harmful. If it had been a grown man and a 15-year old boy, or an explicit version of Lolita, I'm quite sure it would have garnered a different type of reaction.