Dissecting Blue Is the Warmest Color: The Graphic Novel vs. The Film

blue-is-the-warmest-colorAfter watching Blue Is the Warmest Color one becomes curious how this translated from a graphic novel to the big screen and it’s surprising how similar, yet wildly different, the two works are.

You can find my review of the film here.

As you work your way through Julie Maroh’s book you notice most of the big scenes are preserved on the screen for the majority of the text. Girl meets boy, friends pressure her, passing Emma in the street, sexually dreaming about her, trying to go on with the boy, venturing out with gay friends, meeting Emma at the bar, kissing a fellow friend, meeting Emma outside of school, graphic representation of first sexual encounter with Emma, but the biggest difference you will immediately notice is that Adèle is no where to be found. Adèle is Clementine in the book, and Clementine is dead on page one.

Maroh tells the story of these women in flashback, through Emma reading Clementine’s journals (per the deceased’s request), and that instantly puts a more sorrow mood over the entire story. Not that Maroh doesn’t find plenty of rich emotion and joy in her book, far from it. The book is full of moments of discovery, tenderness and love and the film embraces and expands on these emotions at length. Maroh’s novel provides a strong groundwork for the film, but director Abdellatif Kechiche, screenwriter Ghalia Lacroix and stars Adèle Exarchopoulos & Léa Seydoux take the story to another level with their creation of Adèle and representation of Emma on the big screen.

Exarchopoulos, up on that screen, is just so good, with such an expressive face, she brings Adèle to life in a way that no artist, even one as talented as Maroh, could bring Clementine to life. Seydoux nearly matches her co-star every step of the way, bringing more complexity and depth to Emma than what’s on the page.
Maroh’s book is very good, and there is a lot of Clementine in Adèle, but it’s where the filmmakers take Adèle beyond the page that has the film eclipsing the book. Both works make some dramatic leaps in time, but the character growth and richness works a lot better in the film. The film takes more time to let the relationship simmer in many of the scenes that are lifted the book, but its when the two works break away from each other that the film especially puts its foot forward.

The novel’s focus on Clementine’s “young love” obsession with Emma is maintained in the film, but it’s brief, subtle and uses the saved time from cutting out the immature and secret sorrow for Emma to instead better grow Adèle into a more mature and realistic woman.

When reading the book you can see why the filmmakers decided to blaze their own path with Adèle. Clementine and Emma’s affair behind Sabine’s (Emma’s girlfriend) back drags on a bit too long and it all seems a tad too tired and conventional as a sort of forbidden romance; especially paired up against the journey Adèle and Emma take in the film. Giving Emma an out of being entirely guilty, by painting Sabine as a cheater, seems a little too neat as well and exercising that reveal from the film helps build tension that Emma could do the same to Adèle. The film also better uses the tension created from Emma’s thoughts that Clementine/Adèle is simply stopping over with her until she finds a man. The picture earns these emotions through Adèle’s interaction and allure with men, where the book uses it more, simply, as a wall to throw up between the two lovers early on in their relationship.

The book’s handling of discrimination is also far more blatant, over the top even, as the big reveal at Clementine’s house doesn’t feel earned and even comes across as unbelievably stupid; it is the worst sequence in the novel. Why would Emma walk around naked (let alone the couple have sex in the first place) in Clementine’s parent’s house, when her Dad was clearly a known bigot? The couple gets thrown out of the house with barely their clothes on their backs and it all feels just incredibly forced and manipulative for the pure sake of, cliched, drama.

The film’s representation of discrimination comes across far more naturally and it’s really appreciated the choice not to turn Adèle’s parents into stereotypical bigots; even if the story takes place in a time that this would be entirely believable. By not having her parents throw her out of the house it also makes Adèle’s story about her decision to grow and is not something that is forced upon her, leaving her with no other options. Adèle ends up with Emma entirely under her own power in the film and that makes their relationship significantly more powerful. The film isn’t really about gay rights in the way that the book is, it’s about Adèle, and the film’s dedication to character is more interesting in this piece of fiction. There are plenty of stories of abandonment and persecution in the gay community still going on today, and that is terrible, but as a piece of fiction being told here it was nice to see the film not retread a story that we’ve seen a lot in many gay films throughout the years. Had this been a true story, the scene playing out like the one in Maroh’s novel would be essential to the narrative carried over to the film, but since it is not it’s a breath of fresh air to see this story told through personal agency and not forced change.

The break up between the two lovers plays out mostly the same in both works, Adèle/Clementine cheats on Emma with a man, but again the film handles everything better. The book pushes through so much, in so few pages, what was the rush? The break up hits so much harder in the film, this again might be just because of the medium, but Seydoux brings so much devastation to Emma with Exarchopoulos matching her in heartbreak. Again, a film allows for more emotion, but the book barely spends any time in the moment and instead runs towards an even more ill advised finale.

Clementine’s death results from, more or less, heartbreak over the loss of her relationship with Emma; a pill addiction brought on from the breakup leads to heart failure. Sadly, the film’s biggest misstep comes from choosing to take on one the couple’s final encounters in the book and actually makes it worse. In the book Clementine and Emma have their last non-deathbed encounter on a beach, a moment of lust that leads to Clementine’s heart (literally) breaking, and the film takes this post break up moment even further by having the two lusting over each other in a public cafe; minus the literal heartbreak, though plenty of the emotional kind. It is the only false moment in the film and it’s a shame that it seems inspired by an ill advised scene from the book. The film elevates almost all, of the many, scenes it directly adapts from the source, but this one misses the mark. The emotional stuff in the scene between Adèle and Emma works, a post break-up lingering desire, but when the filmmakers manifest it physically in a seemingly uncontrollable lust the viewer will be asking themselves what the hell is going on. Thankfully, the film nails everything beyond this scene and watching Adèle grow up and move on from Emma is a powerful final note for the picture.

The appeal of the tragic love story of Maroh’s novel is affecting, but the filmmakers found a much more engaging and natural path for their lovers in the film. Both are engaging works and interesting takes on this love story, but the film surpasses its source and is an excellent example of how to adapt a work to the big screen. The graphic novel is certainly worth your time, but the film version of Blue of the Warmest Color stands as the essential version of this love story.

3 thoughts on “Dissecting Blue Is the Warmest Color: The Graphic Novel vs. The Film

  1. I disagree that the dinner scene is a misstep. I found it to be one of the most interesting scenes in the film and one of the most devastating I’ve ever seen. The point of the dinner scene is closure. Granted, this is a conversation that should have taken place 3 years earlier for Adele’s sake, but ultimately, she can’t move forward without closure and Emma is a gracious enough character that she gives her that moment. Unfortunately, the one card Adele has to play in this scene is sex because it’s the thing Emma admits to missing the most so Adele plays her hand (literally) but nothing will salvage this situation. However, Adele is left with the most tender one-liner I’ve seen or heard in a long time, and she knows exactly where she stands. I see this scene as closure for Emma especially, while I see the final scene as closure and acceptance (finally) for Adele that she will never fit into Emma’s world. Heartbreaking scene, powerful dialogue, and a very necessary moment for the sake of these characters moving on with their lives. Great to read your thoughts! I am glad the film strayed so far from the novel, the film is so much better.

    1. I agree with you for the most part, everything about the scene works besides the sexual stuff, and that only doesn’t work because of the public setting. All of the catharsis in the scene is great.

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