Sunday, December 1, 2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

Blue Is the Warmest Color is the English translation of Julie Maroh's graphic novel that inspired the controversial film adaptation that won a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The book has also won awards, the most notable being one at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in 2011.

Unlike the film -- with its uncomfortably long sex scenes -- the book is a more delicate lesbian love story. It is told mainly in retrospect, through 15 years of diary entries that Clementine began recording during her teens. She has willed the journals to her former lover, Emma.

The women first meet in the mid-1990s, when Clementine is 15 and blue-haired Emma is in her fourth year of art school. Their parents have opposite reactions to their respective daughter's lesbianism and Clementine remains very private about her sexuality, while Emma is out and proud.

The setting is Lille, a city on the border between France and Belgium. Maroh's expressive washed ink art has more colour in the contemporary scenes and a somber gray and sepia palette with touches of blue (of course) for the flashbacks.

I saw the film before reading the book. Even though the two plots are only superficially similar, I think the film allowed me to more quickly grasp some important elements that are only briefly shown in the book. Two examples are the blatant homophobia Clementine experiences from her classmates, which in turn contributes to her difficulty in coming out; and the affair with a male colleague some years after Clementine enters the workforce.

The book is beautiful, with realistic characters and a wistfully romantic mood. It is better than the film.

Readalikes: A Canadian high school student in the mid-1990s is attracted to a woman several years older than herself in Skim (Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki); 12 Days (June Kim) is about grieving the end of a lesbian relationship and the death of that former lover at the same time; The Blue Dragon (Robert Lepage and others) has a similar melancholy mood and theme of lost (hetero) love, plus, you can compare the two different endings between the book and film versions of Blue Is the Warmest Color to the multiple-choice endings in The Blue Dragon.

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