Whether you idolize him, vilify him, or are torn about your views on him — there is no denying that Abdellatif Kechiche has made a profound and lasting mark on the French filmmaking world. With his characteristically long yet ambitious takes, his search for beauty in realism, and his passionate political engagement, Kechiche has become the voice of French-Tunisian cinema.
Born in Tunis (Tunisia) in 1960, Kechiche and his family emigrated to Nice when he was five years old. His father was a labourer who worked in construction and is Kechiche’s main reference when it comes to work ethic. These values and his modest background are an overarching theme and permeate Kechiche’s work, but have also displeased many, “I’ll give a lead role to a labourer, or because my films are too long, or because I’ll make a film about couscous. It upsets people in the business, but I’m opening things up.” (The Guardian)
And the Tunisian-French director and screenwriter is no stranger to controversy, having turned a lot of heads at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 with his three-hour long adaptation of a comic book “Blue is the Warmest Colour.” The film is a coming of age drama that depicts a young woman’s sexual discovery which shocked quite a few in the audience due to the graphic nature of the sex scenes. The film went on to win the prestigious Palme d’Or and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, the Best International Independent Film at the British Independent Film Awards in the same year, and introduced him to a global audience.
But racking up awards comes with no surprise to Kechiche; he has won two Césars for Best Film and Best Director for “Games of Love and Chance” in 2003, the Special Jury Prize at the 64th Mostra del Cinema in Venice and his second César for Best Director for the “Secret of the Grain” in 2007.
Often casting amateur actors and actresses, Kechiche’s goal is to bring freshness, genuineness, and every day life into his films and into French cinema. This is reflected in Kechiche’s films that have a very honest and charming sensitivity to them, “Either you want to make something that’s prefabricated, mapped out, pre-programmed – or you see cinema as a real opportunity to create, like painting or literature” (The Guardian).
And it’s this exact obsession with perfectionism in his realism and strict work standards that got Kechiche in trouble. Several days after winning the Palme d’Or for “Blue is the Warmest Colour”, a controversy erupted over his treatment of the crew members including of lead actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, which was described as bordering “moral harassment.” Kechiche dismissed these comments and accusations but expressed his pain and disappointment, even saying that he wished the film had never been released because it “had been sullied.”
Recently, Kechiche announced that he would be auctioning off his coveted award in order to complete his latest film — “Mektoub, My Love”, after financing suddenly halted. The film tells the story of Amin, a screenwriter, who is embroiled in a love triangle, with one of the women being a producer who agrees to finance his first film. The protagonist must choose between love and his career — an ironic and stinging example of how life imitates art.
Although his lead actresses criticised his behaviour, stating they would never work with him again, they later admitted in an interview that Kechiche was indeed a great filmmaker. So whether one should view him as an impassioned genius or an maniacal anti-hero, that’s up to you to decide. But one thing that remains indisputable is that Kechiche is a talented director who is always striving for excellence, and whether you like it or not — he is here to stay.