Monday, October 28, 2013

My Answer to the Latest Criticwire Survey Question: Off Screen Information

Q: The very public feud between actress Lea Seydoux and her Blue Is the Warmest Color director Abdellatif Kechiche has become as well-known as the film itself. Should critics ignore off-screen information in reviewing a film, or do they have an obligation to deal with it?

I, obviously, have not seen Blue is the Warmest Color yet – it doesn’t open in Toronto until November 8th – which is when I plan to see it. When I do review the movie however, I won’t deal with the many off-screen antics that have happened in the last few months – unless they are relevant to what we are seeing onscreen.

I’m not going to recap the whole feud – if you’re at all interested in it, you’ve probably already read all about it, and if not it’s not hard to find. For the most part, I do have to say that director Abdellatif Kechiche sounds like an asshole, and also somewhat ridiculous with his criticisms of Seydoux – even going as far last week to say she has to answer for what she said in court. Is he going to sue her? For what, calling him an asshole?

It doesn’t really matter to me what Kechiche did to get the scenes he did. Except in extreme cases (like saying film rape or murder or other such crimes), directors have often engaged in questionable tactics to get what they want. Sometimes, it’s relevant, and sometimes it’s not. It all depends on the movie itself.

It is not irrelevant for instance to talk about Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s divorce when discussing Allen’s Husbands and Wives however – the last film they made together, which debuted during the nasty tabloid fodder that surrounded their separation, because the film addresses some of the issues they were going through. It’s also not irrelevant to talk about Roman Polanski’s predilection for young women when discussing Tess (1980) – since it was a film he made after running away from a conviction of raping a child, while in a relationship with his then underage star of the film – or discussing how editing his film The Ghost Writer while under house arrest, effects the results. Those things inform what we see on screen. On a completely different level, Robert Redford’s performance in All is Lost is great in large part because we, as the audience, have a long history with him as an actor – and unknown 77 year old actor in the same role would not have the same impact, even if he delivered the “same” performance as Redford.

But in the end, what really matters is what’s onscreen and what’s not. Kechiche seems like an asshole in his recent rantings and ravings to be sure, but if he made a masterpiece, I’ll have no problem saying so. And if I don’t think he made a masterpiece, it won’t because of his behavior. It’s na├»ve to think we can block out everything we hear about a movie and the circumstances in which it’s made when we watch the film. But you do have to decide what’s relevant to what’s onscreen and what’s not.

So basically, I have a cop out of an answer – what happens off screen is not relevant to what onscreen – unless it is. Do with that what you will.

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