Blue is the Warmest Color (graphic novel review)

If you watched Blue is the Warmest Color, and decided to pick up a copy of the graphic novel, the second difference you notice in the source material is that the character called Adele in the film, was originally named Clementine. You may be wondering what the first difference is. I won’t spoil it for you; not until I post my spoiler discussion in a few days.

Sometimes I like to read the novel before I watch the movie–sometimes not. I know that changes will be made, and scenes excised, because the mediums are so different. Le bleu est une couleur chaude, (to use its French title) written and drawn by Julie Maroh, is 156 pages long, which makes it about the same as a trade paperback that contains six issues of a comic book. So how did screenwriters Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix manage to make a three hour film out of what appears to be a thin novel? Addition and expansion. It’s not an apples to apples comparison, but X-Men: Days of Future Past is two issues, and Bryan Singer made both an 131 minute theatrical version, and an 148 minute “Rogue Cut.” The key (in both cases) is to start with powerful source material.

The story in the graphic novel is told from the point of view of Clementine, just as the film is from Adele’s p.o.v. However, the text in the novel is from Clem’s diary entries, which, like mine, has a number of gaps. The movie fills in these gaps, and adds new scenes, which may have seemed extraneous in the novel–if that makes any sense.

A first person narrator can be unreliable, or leave out information. When you are reading, you can stop, figure it out, then pick back up where you left off. This doesn’t always work in cinema. I agree with Billy Wilder’s maxim that if you allow the audience to put two and two together, they will love you forever; this is certainly true when it comes to the dreaded “infodump.”

Filmmaker Kechiche chose to use suspense rather than surprise during a crutial part of the story, but that doesn’t make him Alfred Hitchcock, nor does it diminish the way Maroh chose to write and draw the narrative. Both ways are valid, and the end result is the same. It doesn’t matter one bit to me if you show your work or not, as long as result is clear.

Maroh chose to use black and white illustrations (the only color being Emma’s blue hair) for the vast majority of the graphic novel. When Emma stops dying her hair, color enters the world. I won’t say what this signifies, but having seen the film first, I understood. Which is a new thing for me, since metaphors often go over my head.

The film is deliberate, while the graphic novel is urgent. Both work in their own right, and I love them equally, but differently. While much was added to the screenplay, some stuff from the novel was left out. At least the graphic novel wasn’t contoversial; it’s just a beautiful love story.

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