Review: Blue Is the Warmest Color

My wife and I saw Blue Is the Warmest Color last Friday night.  You may have read that this is the movie with the extended, explicit lesbian love scenes (it carries an 18 rating in the UK).

As I reflected on the film later, it occurs to me that the task of a director, together with those of the actors, are analogous to that of a writer.  In both cases, the artists are striving to tell a story in a way that has unique and special meaning for the audience.  In this respect, Blue is extraordinarily successful: the directing and the acting have an extremely strong effect on the audience.  One cannot help but feel, and sympathise completely with the characters.  The story, itself, provides a firm foundation; it is based on a novel by Julie Maroh: a fifteen-year-old girl of modest circumstances falls in love with an older, middle class, intellectual artist.  But it is the fiery passions of the two characters that make the picture really memorable.  It is the direction of Abdellatif Kechiche, and the acting of Adèle Exarchopoulos (as Adèle, the student) and Léa Seydoux (as Emma, the artist) which give the film its memorable power.  Whatever else you may have heard about this film, in my opinion it is worth seeing just to marvel at the acting and the direction.  (I think it is shameful that after the film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival there was a rather public falling out amongst the actresses and the director.)

This is not to say that the film does not have its flaws.  It’s running time is three hours and seven minutes, and while it is largely successful in carrying its emotional energy that long, I think it would have been more effective had it been edited more rigorously.  At the same time, I felt that a little more attention should have been given to the loneliness which Adèle feels later in the relationship.  She cheats on Emma with a male colleague, and says that she was lonely.  It’s believable, but we were given no evidence of it.  While the average viewer will understand, almost at the outset, that this is a relationship which has no basis in shared values, experiences or goals, it is this lack of shared identity which makes the failure of the relationship so tragic.  The emphasis in the film is on the dramatic break-up.  But it is not the break-up, itself which is the tragedy; it is the causes of the break-up that are tragic.

So, what about the explicit sex scenes?  One of the scenes lasts seven minutes.  Some reviewers have commented that the sex scenes should have been shorter.  In my opinion, the scenes are not erotic.  (While the actresses are fully nude, there were no female genitalia visible.)  There were two absolutely gorgeous female bodies, and the passionate lust was almost palpable!  I read that the author, Julie Maroh, said that the scenes would strike a lesbian audience as ‘ridiculous’.  Maybe so, but for me, they made the point that these women are deeply in love.

If you have a chance, I think that Blue Is the Warmest Color is a film worth seeing.

Comments: Sable Shadow and The Presence

I have received this review from a friend who, two years ago, saw an earlier draft of Sable Shadow and The Presence.  At the time, he told me it was “boring”.  Needless to say, I have worked hard on it since.
Congratulations Bill! an outstanding achievement! I couldn’t put it down, meals no meals, I swallowed the book in two days. Your prose has become self assured.  You dominate it, rather  than being dominated by it. The research, as ever, is superb, and also completely open to being understood by the layman. 
I drank in the corporate politics, and the acquisition of Nano made me ”homesick” for my General Foods’ period in France. You have certainly managed to recreate life as it is lived – even to the pertinent introduction of the meta-physical element – though a bit wobbly in spots, it stands solid, protected by Sartre.
I like it (the meta-physical element) and feel close to it – I guess that’s one of the reasons why I think it such a  remarkable creation.  Your progressive development of style, skills and plot makes my mouth water for the goodies to come.  Thank you from me, but really from all your readers.

Judges’ Commentary: The Iranian Scorpion

I submitted The Iranian Scorpion to the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.  It did not win an award; there were 2,800 books submitted.  But, I did receive the judges rating which is as follows:

On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is “needs improvement” to 5 “outstanding”:

Structure & Organisation: 3

Grammar: 3

Product Quality & Cover Design: 3

Plot: 3

Character Development: 3

The judges commentary is:

While this is an interesting package overall, there is room for improvement.  The cover image itself is striking.  The typography is strong and the contrast is good.  The layout works well as does the color palette.  The title on the spine would be easier to read, as would the author’s name, if the map were screened back more (this is also true of the cover).  The back cover copy is well-written and intriguing, as jacket copy should be.  The author bio on the back cover is well-written, as well.  Paper quality is good, especially on the interior.  The interior design is practical and appealing, and the text is very easy to read.

The Story:

This novel has a lot to recommend it.  The writing is good; the voice is strong.  The Middle Eastern setting is fascinating, as is the drug trade milieu in which the story takes place.  Most important, the author has a great story to tell and he tells it in a way that gives the story the ring of authenticity.  The hero is likable, as is the heroine.  The supporting cast is colorful and well-drawn.  The plot is fast-moving.  That said, the author slips in an out of point of view.  He also tend to write in elemental chunks: Here’s a chunk that’s mostly all description, followed by a chunk that’s all narrative/backstory; then a chunk that’s all dialogue/action, etc.  When the author masters the art of writing fully imagined scenes that balance character, dialogue, action, narrative, inner monologue and setting – all the elements woven together seamlessly – he’ll be a writer to watch.  A final note: Using different font to indicate a foreign language does not work and it is very distracting to the reader.

My response:

I would have appreciated some differentiation in the numerical scores.  Everything as a three doesn’t tell me where the strengths and weaknesses are.  I take the point about writing in chunks.  I acknowledge that I have done that in the past, and the point about weaving all the elements together is a good one.  I’m working on it!  I’m not so clear about what is meant by ‘slips in an out of point of view’.  There is the narrator’s point of view (which, in the case of this novel, I’ve tried to keep neutral and factual) and a character’s point of view (which may be biased and subjective.)  Does it mean that there is ambiguity about the point of view?  In which case, I’ve got to watch out not to let that happen, because it would be confusing to the reader.  I think I may present differing points of view of two (or more characters) in a single passage.  I do this to better define the characters, and the issues between them.  I see nothing wrong with this as long as it is clear who owns a particular point of view.  I still have a bias in favour of using a different font for different languages – particularly where the language expresses a very different culture.  I don’t think I would use a different font for French or German, but somehow it seems right to distinguish a Middle Eastern language (like Pashto of Farsi with all its cultural baggage) from English.  I have to admit, though that more readers prefer a uniform font.

Sable Shadow and The Presence

My fifth novel, Sable Shadow & The Presence, has just been published.


The publisher’s press release says the following:

“Is the Voice You Hear Your Conscience, Or Is It Something Else? 
From an early age, Henry Lawson hears voices. He attributes one to the Sable Shadow, a confidant of the devil, and the other to The Presence, a representative of God.  He believes his life becomes a “board game” between these two powerful influences. 
Sable Shadow & The Presence is the fictional autobiography of a bright, but introverted and slightly insecure young man, one who studies the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre.  He begins to see life in existential terms, although this does not infringe on his rudimentary Christian beliefs. Upon Henry’s entry into the business world, he receives vital guidance from Sable Shadow, and advances to a high corporate level. With his career nearly at its peak, Henry suffers a series of devastating tragedies and attempts suicide. With the help of his wife and a psychiatrist, with whom he engages in philosophical dialogue, he constructs a completely new identity to overcome his past.  But will this identity escape the influence of Sable Shadow? 
This thought-provoking, psychological novel is rich in triumph and tragedy, success and failure, good and evil. It is a modern day look at Paradise Lost.”

I would recommend it, if:

  • you like biography (this is a fictional autobiography)
  • you are interested in philosophy (layman’s level, not academic level)
  • you’ve wondered what existentialism is all about
  • you are interested in what it takes to get ahead (and fail) in the corporate world
  • you have a layman’s interest in theology
  • you think you might be interested in Henry Lawson’s theory of how to succeed in life


  • if you’re just interested in a good story


“Let Children Pick Their Own Books”

“There is no such thing as a bad book for children,” says author Neil Gaiman, best-selling writer and Carnegie Medal-winner.  He was delivering the second annual Reading Agency lecture at London’s Barbican on October 14.  He said that compelling children to read books deemed appropriate by adults will leave them convinced that reading is ‘uncool and unpleasant’. . . There are no bad authors for children that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. . . . They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories.  A hackneyed worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed or worn out to them.  This is the first time the child has encountered it. . . . Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.  Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. . . . Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love  of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature.”  My own recent experience with children’s reading involves my grandchildren.  In Sicily this past summer, I brought along two illustrated books: one of Aesop’s fables and the other of fairy tales.  After dinner, I offered to read to them.  One grandson, in particular, was very keen to listen.  He would select one book or the other, pick out a particular story, and comment on it after I had read it (or even during the reading).  His younger brother and sister were interested, initially, but they preferred other occupations. More recently, I read bedtime stories to two other grandsons, aged 5 and 3.  They each picked out a book they wanted me to read.  (They had to take turns.)  The older one picked out a child’s book that would have been difficult for a thirteen-year-old to follow.  (It was a compilation of ancient fairy tales in ancient language.)  I pointed out that it maybe he wouldn’t like it so much, but he insisted that I carry on with the reading, perhaps because he wanted to get an idea of what older children liked to read.  After about the third tale, he selected another book.  His younger brother wanted to be read to, also, but his idea of being read to was to explore illustrated pop-up books, and comment on them. I can remember when I was about thirteen, there was a paperback novel called The Amboy Dukes in which my classmates were highly interested.  I was told, when I finally got a copy, was that the cover illustration was two teenagers having sex.  This seemed rather doubtful, as both the boy and the girl were dressed.  I remember showing the book to my mother, and pointing out the cover illustration.  She, too, was sceptical, but she made no other comment.  But, I decided to read it, in case there were salacious sections.  There weren’t.  It was boring.  King Arthur was much more interesting.