French actor Adèle Exarchopoulos has reflected on the backlash to her controversial sex scenes in Blue is the Warmest Colour and her fresh approach to intimacy in her latest film, Passages.
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ira Sachs, Passages stars Ben Whishaw, Franz Rogowski and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Despite the fact that the film is due for release in September, it has already made headlines for its controversial NC-17 rating, meaning the content is not suitable for people under the age of 18.
The film follows the sensual love affair between film director Tomas (Rogowski) and teacher Agathe (Exarchopoulos) which threatens the longtime marriage between Tomas and artist Martin (Whishaw).
This not the first time Exarchopoulos has appeared in an NC-17 rated film. In 2013, she played a lesbian lover in notorious queer film Blue is the Warmest Colour, opposite Léa Seydoux. Following the film’s release, director Abdellatif Kechiche faced heavy criticism for exploiting the main stars and catering to the male gaze with its graphic and gratuitous sex scenes.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Exarchopoulos spoke about her conflicted feelings surrounding the film and its fallout.
“With more maturity, I now know that it was a very hard experience in the sense of the commitment that we were being asked in some of the scenes,” she explained.
“And it’s true that probably the controversy spoiled the project and the beauty of it, because we were making something that really belonged to us in the first place.”
Regardless, she still holds “a lot of love” for Kechiche, adding that her performance, for which she won a César Award for Most Promising Actress, “couldn’t have been better”.
“[That] is really, really rare when you are an actor. It was like shooting life in a way, like you’re making a documentary about your own character.”
The industry has adapted over the years, introducing intimacy coordinators and placing higher standards for the safety of women on set following the #MeToo movement. This time around, Exarchopoulos set “limits” while filming lengthy sex scenes with Rogowski for Passages.
“I told Ira I have no trouble [with] a sex scene, but I don’t want people to see my body like they did before, so can we find another way,” she explained.
“Ira wasn’t primarily interested in seeing my boobs and my body; it was more about capturing two people from different cultures not being able to put words on all of their desire. We agreed not to treat the scene like a boy discovering love with a girl: it was more about two people trying to search each other, a kind of mutual seduction.
“And I think there is something really physical between Franz and me, but it was also clear between us what the limits were.”
Adèle Exarchopoulos in Passages. (MUBI)
The 29-year-old actor also offered her perspective on the NC-17 rating, saying that it seemed unnecessary since “we all go through this kind of sensual attraction”.
Earlier in July, Sachs shared his frustration at the rating, provided by the Motion Picture Association (MPA), which he denounced as “cultural censorship” of queer relationships and bodies.
In an interview with Vogue in August, Exarchopoulos also expanded on the LGBTQ+ aspect of the love triangle.
“I love that it’s not the subject of the film, that they’re homosexual and one loves a girl,” she told the publication.
“It’s just, like, this is a couple [who has been together a long time] and they face the fact that one of them is going to cross a boundary and take the risk of losing the other one. It’s a movie about the present; it’s modern.
“And it’s also about transition – what can touch you in life, even if you know it’ll be just an experience of a few months, but it can change you forever.”
Passages opens in UK cinemas on 1 September 2023.