Graphic Novel Review: Blue Is The Warmest Color (2010) – Differences & Similarities Between Julie Maroh’s Bande Dessinée and Abdelatif Kechiche’s Film

Le bleu est une couleur chaude
*Spoilèrs à l’intérieur*

has had a rough day. Her girlfriend Clémentine aka Clém just died. She’s now hanging out at Clém’s parents house, where Clém’s father, a raging homophobe isn’t exactly welcoming her staying. Reading through Clém’s personal diary Emma journeys through Clém’s memories: The first time they met, the first time they went out together, their first kiss, the first time they had sex. Where did it all go wrong? How did their relationship fall apart? How did it come to this? Emma tries to make sense of the past, dealing with her own regrets and contradictions, but sometimes life just happens and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Blue is the Warmest Color (original title: Le bleu est une couleur chaude) is the French graphic novel that inspired the 2013 film by the same title. It is Julie Maroh‘s first graphic novel. She started it when she was 19 and it took her five years to complete. You can definitely tell that it’s written by a young adult and I would say that it also targets young adults, unlike Abdelatif Kechiche film which is clearly intended for a more mature audience. There’s a number of things that are different in the comic book version of Blue is the Warmest Color, first of which the fact that Clémentine (Adèle’s character in the film version) dies. The other differences with the movie will be briefly listed below:

  • The character of Valentin (played by Sandor Funtek in the film) plays a much bigger and decisive role in the graphic novel compared to the film, where he’s only really relevant in the first act of the story.
  • The intolerance of Clémentine’s parents towards their daughter’s sexual orientation, prejudices against LGBT or homophobia in general are only touched upon in the film, but are explored more thoroughly in the graphic novel.
  • The graphic novel is almost exclusively about Clémentine’s love life and her relationship with Emma, while the film explores a much broader spectrum of themes and aspects of life.
  • The comic book is much more melodramatic, whereas the film takes a dramatic approach, but also features a lot of humor (especially in the first two acts).
  • The story is told through Clémentine’s diary, which shows what she was thinking and feeling a lot of the comic strips are excerpts of her personal writings. In the film there’s no voice-over or narrator.
  • In the film Adèle becomes a school teacher because she likes children. In the comic book she is forced to take a job out of necessity, because she and Emma get caught and so she’s kicked out of the house.

Those are some of the major plot differences. The film however also feels completely different, introducing existentialist themes and larger philosophical issues that aren’t present in the graphic novel version of the story.

love at first sight

The key difference however are the characters, which are completely different. In the comic book they’re sort of flat and not very developed, the story is more plot driven and they’re largely uninteresting. In the film Adèle and Emma are fully-fleshed characters that feel completely real and authentic. Not only that, but they also feel like completely different persons, with different personalities. The Emma of the comic has little to do with the wonderful “butch” lesbian characterization of Léa Seydoux. At the same time Clém is completely different from Adèle, largely because Adèle Exarchopoulos is able to bring a great deal of depth to the character.

For his film director Abdelatif Kechiche on took the premise, the skeleton of the story of how these two characters meet and fall in love. Other than that you can see that he kept some interesting ideas and put in a couple nods to the graphic novel, but pretty much did his own thing. Julie Maroh’s story feels a bit like Twilight, and I don’t mean that in an offensive way, since unlike Stephanie Meyer she is a young adult. The love story in the comic feels less epic, much more whiny and is definitely way sadder (like you almost want to cry sad), by dealing with death and loss, but also homophobia.

blue is the warmest color

Stylistically Blue is the Warmest Color‘s drawings resemble those of Japanese manga, although people have smaller eyes. Most of the flashbacks are painted in sepia tone, to heighten the Emma’s blue hair. I thought it was quite interesting that Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), the first guy Clém goes out with, wears a blue sweater in the graphic novel (I’m not sure he does in the movie, but I could be wrong). In my review of the film I tried to interpret and explain the importance of the color blue. In the graphic novel it is unclear what the color signifies beyond the fact that Emma’s hair is blue when they first meet.

I love it when the drawings are in color, I think Maroh has a great sense and instinct for that. It’s unfortunate that most drawings are in sepia (black & white would have been better). Still I like how she draws objects, landscapes and surroundings, but most of all: People’s faces and their expressions. It’s very realistic and they rarely make typical cartoon faces. The language used is very simple. I read it in its original language, French, and easily understood everything (and my French is a little rusty). Sometimes the dialogues feel a little cheesy, but it’s never (or rarely) too much. Sometimes the story is also a bit repetitive. To it’s credit though it’s also always intriguing and entertaining.

blue emma

All in all, and I’m clearly no comic book expert, the story feels less epic. I prefer the film, but it was interesting to see how the director essentially managed to adapt a graphic novel written and aimed at young adults and turn it into a mature essay about love, art and life. Throughout Kechiche’s film you can see nice little homages, especially in the casting. Some of the actors look very much like the people in the comic book, namely Clém’s friend, her mom and dad and other smaller characters. Perhaps it’s not fair to even compare the two, seeing that not only they work in different mediums, but also try to achieve different things. In a way both succeed, but at this point in my life I feel that I relate more to the film.

6.5 out of 10


  1. Pingback: My Favorite Films of 2013 | black is white

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