With the recent release and acclaim of its cinematic adaptation, the graphic novel “Blue is the Warmest Color” has mesmerized and inspired readers and movie-goers alike. Recently translated from the French by author Julie Maroh, the award-winning comic became available in English prior to the release of its film counterpart in America. A story of tumultuous love, heartbreak, infatuation at first sight and sexual discovery, “Blue is the Warmest Color” has shocked and surprised audiences with its honest portrayal of lesbian love.
This comic-strip romance beautifully depicts the story of Clementine, a shy high school student, who struggles with the discovery and acceptance of her sexuality as she leaves her boyfriend for the fantasy of a mysterious blue-haired girl she passes on the street. This art school punk Emma is the object of Clementine’s fantasies, the physical manifestation of the secret desires she hides from a homophobic family.
From the first line, albeit a bit trite, “My love, when you read these words I will have left this world,” the reader knows they are about to dive into a beautiful tearjerker. The graphic novel is told through Clementine’s diary entries which detail the extent of her relationship with Emma, from that first glance to their fateful meeting in a gay bar one night.
The novel exists as a story within a story, letting the reader experience Clementine’s diary entries at the same time Emma is reading them in the book. In addition to their own emotions, the reader can feel Emma’s sadness and introspection. As the story transitions from the contemporary events in Emma’s life as she reads the diaries to the memories in the diary, there is a change in color and mood. The full-color drawings change to grayscale, with the bright blue of Emma’s hair and eyes being the only colored objects.
Not only is blue the warmest color, but the only color, in Clementine’s memory.
Skillfully told and beautifully illustrated, Maroh succeeds in relating the passion and intimacy of Emma and Clementine’s relationship. While the long sex scenes have garnered much criticism in its movie version, the graphic novel depicts sex as an act of passion and discovery between characters, abandoning lewd descriptions for subtle, romantic graphics.
Though Clementine is fueled by lust when she first meets Emma, sex occurs more in long glances, dreams, sexual tension and loving touches than in explicit scenes.
In an article published on her personal website, Maroh criticized the graphic sex scenes in the movie, calling them “a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn.” Maroh’s approach in the book made the intimate scenes between Emma and Clementine as far from pornography as possible, while maintaining the passion of their encounters. She managed to express unadulterated desire without a tinge of vulgarity.
Regardless of their genders and sexual preferences, Emma and Clementine have a love story which is deep and relatable. Although instances in the story may come off as cliche, they resonate as genuine and poignant.
Maroh reflected the true spectrum of human emotion as the two young girls experience the self-reflection and outside pressures that accompany a homosexual relationship, from self-loathing to denial to parental renunciation. The story details the conflicts they face as lesbians in France in the late 1990’s but also as two different people struggling to maintain their love while growing up and growing apart.
While it may tend toward melodrama at times in the story, intense characterization and beautiful illustrations make “Blue is the Warmest Color” a gorgeous success. It is best read in a spare hour with an open heart and probably some tissues.
Strong, teary sat
Tune in for David’s review of the movie.