Tunisian-French film director Abdellatif Kechiche won the prestigious Palme d’Or award Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival in France for his long feature “Blue is the Warmest Color.”
The film presents the journey of a 15-year-old girl who falls in love with a female art student.
In the acceptance speech, Kechiche dedicated the award to youth of Tunisia.
”I would like to dedicate the movie and the award to another youth, for an act that happened a while ago, the Tunisian revolution, for their ambition to live free, to express themselves, and to love freely,” Kechiche said.
Steven Spielberg, the head of the jury that bestowed the honor, described the movie as “a great love story” in a press conference posted on the festival’s official website.
“The fact it is a love story that made us all to feel privileged to be the fly on the wall, to have been invited to see this story of deep love and of deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning in a wonderful way. The director did not put any constraints on the narrative. He let the scenes play the way they play out in real life,” Spielberg said.
”We were absolutely spellbound by the brilliance of the performances, […] and especially the way the director observed his players, and the way he just let the characters breathe. The spaces were as important as what they said and what they were not saying,” he added.
In an interview with radio station Shems FM, Tunisian film director and producer Ridha Elbehi congratulated Kechiche for the award and emphasized the importance of such an honor in recognizing Tunisian cinema, saying that all Tunisians should celebrate this accomplishment.
“This is an opportunity for us to recognize the status that the Tunisian cinema has achieved,” Elbehi said. “It is true that the movie is a French production, but the nationality and the identity of the director is what is often mentioned. [...] Tunisia was mentioned in an international festival and the director dedicated the award to Tunisians.”
Fethi Kharrat, head of the cinema department at the Ministry of Culture, told Radio Kalima that Kechiche’s winning the award is a reason for celebration.
But the content of the movie, focusing on a homosexual relationship, raises questions about how it will be treated in Tunisian society.
When asked about the possibility of censoring the movie when shown in Tunisia, Kharrat answered that it is too early to talk about screening or censoring the film.
“After he won an award for the ‘Secret of the Grain,’ he was invited and honored by the Tunisian Ministry of Culture. It is the least that the Ministry of Culture can do to invite Kechiche and honor him for wining the Palmes D’or. He was in competition with great names, which is a source of pride, ” Kharrat said.
Kechiche began his career as an actor, appearing in Tunisian films by directors Ridha Behi and Nouri Bouzid before becoming a director himself. His previous long-feature films “The Secret of the Grain” and “Black Venus” earned him critical praise.
Ferid Boughedir, another Tunisian director, was also honored at Cannes, where he was inducted into the French Legion of Honor.