Blue is the Warmest Color: Adaptation and Audience
This post contains spoilers.
In 2010, French graphic artist, Julie Maroh published the graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color. The graphic novel is a lesbian coming of age love story where one of the protagonists, Emma, relives her relationship with Clementine through her diary after she has passed away. Shortly after the release of the graphic novel, a film adaptation was started by Abdellatif Kechiche, who was the director, writer, and one of the producers of the film. After La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2, translation Life of Adele – Chapters 1 & 2, was completed, the film was shown at the Cannes festival in 2013. The film received wide-spread acclaim, unanimously winning the Palm d’Or, which for the first time was awarded not only to the director but to both of the lead actresses, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. In the US, the film was renamed to Blue is the Warmest Color.
Even with all the acclaim though, controversy over Blue is the Warmest Color quickly spread for the film’s long and explicit sex scenes. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux also made comments criticizing Abdellatif Kechiche’s rude and manipulative behavior on set of the film. Julie Maroh, herself, has criticized the film for the sex scenes being unrealistic and for the lack of a lesbian being involved at all in the creative and filmmaking process (neither Exarchopoulos or Seydoux are lesbians). Despite the controversy though, the film still continues to be received highly and it has brought wider recognition and acclaim to Maroh’s graphic novel.
As with every adaptation, there are always varying degrees of fidelity. Some adaptations are nearly line for line copies of the original source, and others may completely omit many things in the original source. Blue is the Warmest Color is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. The plot of Maroh’s graphic novel and multiple parts of the story are present in Kechiche’s film, especially in the first half of the movie.
For example, similar shots were used to emulate a few of the panels in the graphic novel, most notably them passing on the street before they actually met and then Adele (Clementine) touching herself thinking about the “blue haired girl” she passed on the street. Adele’s friends rejecting her for hanging out with Emma, even though they had no proof that she was a lesbian, and in both versions of Blue is the Warmest Color, Adele wants to be a teacher and Emma aspires to be an artist.
However, the differences in the plot from one to the other are noticeable and significant. These differences greatly affect the interpretation of the story, especially when considering the audience the graphic novel was made for and the audience the film was made for.
Differences in Adaptation – Graphic Novel
Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Color is written and presented in a way where the target audience is supposed to be young adults who are already openly gay, struggling with their own sexuality, and straight people. The graphic novel has a unique and immersive art style, with carefully drawn characters and environments; the style is easy to follow and understand as the reader is becoming immersed in Clementine and Emma’s world.
The art is in color when in the present day, following Emma reading Clementine’s diary, and then black and white when the audience is being shown the past. When the past is being shown, Maroh puts in a few spots of a bright blue in the midst of the grayscale black and white, most notably with Emma’s hair. “We follow the events of the past through Clementine’s diary,” Julie Maroh says in her interview with “Salon”, “but our memory never fully remembers everything. We always remember specific details… a light, a smell, a gesture, an object. Among the black-and-white imperfect memories of Clementine, the touches of blue are there to evoke strong details that left their mark on her.”
As time moves forward in Blue is the Warmest Color, the color palette starts to expand more, adding more color with each section of the story as it gets closer to the present. The increase in color is a nice and effective visual way to show time moving towards the present in the graphic novel. The story also doesn’t rely on complex metaphors or a complicated plot. It’s easy to read through and understand since the characters feel realistic and relatable to the average audience, making it an ideal read for a young adult audience.
As stated earlier, Blue is the Warmest Color has similarities and differences in it’s adaptation. The characterization is similar between Clementine and Emma in both versions. Clementine is a younger girl who aspires to become a teacher and live a stable and secure life. Her family is middle/low-class, as we can see from their concern about Emma trying to make a living off of painting (see page 121 of graphic novel). While the graphic novel touches on this characterization, the film explores this more by going in-depth with the dinner scenes in the film. Adele’s parents stress the importance of having a good stable job, like Adele being a teacher, when they learn about Emma working as an artist.
With Emma’s characterization, the audience can immediately tell that she is quirky and outgoing in both the graphic novel and film. She stands out at the gay bar by ordering strawberry milk (not a common drink to get at a bar), and makes herself standout very clearly with her bright blue hair. In the film, Abdellatif Kechiche expands on the class differences more by showing Emma’s family as liberal and more high-class. For example, while Adele’s family eats spaghetti and talks about needing a stable job, Emma’s family eats seafood and talks about the arts and culture.
One of the most notable differences in terms of adaptation is the ending of the graphic novel and the film. In the graphic novel, Clementine cheats on Emma with a man named Antoine. Emma dumps Clementine and kicks her out of her apartment. This sends Clementine on a downward spiral of depression and drug addiction. Eventually, they meet again at an ocean because one of Clementine’s friend, Valentin, set her up to meet her there without knowing. Emma forgives Clementine and they embrace and start to make out. Clementine then gets a heart attack from her poor health and she is in the hospital dying. Clementine gives Emma a note saying that she wants her to have her diaries, then the story ends with Clementine finishing the diaries.
This ending is definitive. The audience knows exactly where Emma and Clementine’s relationship ends and the audience has closure with what they need to know about Emma and Clementine’s individual life and their lives together. However, the film isn’t so simple with it’s ending.
Differences in Adaptation – Film and Why All of This Matters
In the film, Adele (Clementine) still cheats on Emma and Emma kicks her out of the apartment. Adele still gets depressed, but she doesn’t get addicted to drugs like in the graphic novel. They meet again at a café and Adele tries one last time to make Emma fall in love again, forcing her to touch her and kiss her. Emma has since gotten another girlfriend who has children and has started settling down as a family. She pushes Adele away and says that she would still like to see Adele but only as friends. Emma invites Adele to meet her at an art showing and when Adele goes she see’s that Emma is still using her nude paintings of Adele as one of her main paintings. The two talk for a bit, but then Emma leaves her to talk to other people. A young man comes up to Adele and talks to her, but Adele leaves the moment is attention is taken away from her. Adele briefly congratulates Emma on her work and then leaves the art showing. The film ends with Adele walking down the side-walk away from the camera, symbolizing her moving on with her life.
In terms of the artistic style of the film, Abdellatif Kechiche took the presentation and art direction in a much different way. There isn’t any sense of flashbacks or reminiscing in his adaptation. The film feels like it is being told in the present time closely following the life of Adele as it happens before the audiences eyes. The film is very naturalistic, relying on the use of natural light, long takes and scenes, and a lack of a soundtrack. There are not many scenes in the film that takes you out of the immersion of the film (excluding the sex scenes). The original French title even reflects this naturalistic feeling: La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2, translation: Life of Adele – Chapters 1 & 2. Film critic Darragh O’Donoghue writes, “His [Kechiche’s] staging of long, partly improvised scenes with handheld cameras allows him to remain true to the language of gaze, gesture, and touch. He goes further by removing the distancing frames placed on the narratives . . . creating a dynamic, vital present-tense narrative. And by changing the name of Maroh’s heroine (Clementine) to that of his lead actress Adele, he blurs the boundaries between fictional and ‘real’ experience.”
The open-ended ending, while it shows that Adele and Emma are over, allows for more interpretation into the characterization of Adele and Emma. The ambiguity of the ending allows the audience speculate more into who Adele and Emma are and try to figure out where they are going with their lives. What is the current state of Adele’s sexuality? Beyond the affair, what other things might have caused the break up between Adele and Emma? etc. These are things that are addressed in the movie and allow the audience to be able to provide their own interpretation to their analysis of Adele, Emma, and their relationship.
Both the stylistic differences and plot differences are there to appeal to the different types of audiences that each work was made for. The plot and style from Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Color is meant to appeal to a young adult audience. The graphic novel is easy to understand and follow, beautifully and artistically done, and emotionally touching and powerful with a strong and conclusive ending. Clementine is a character that a young adult audience (gay or straight) could identify with and be able to connect to in the story. Abdellatif Kechiche’s film is much more slow-paced, spending a lot of time with every scene allowing the audience to observe and connect with Adele and her life. The original title of the film, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2, translated is Life of Adele – Chapters 1 & 2, reflects this focus on Adele’s life and provides a more real-time documentary feeling with an open-ended ending, which an older, more analytical audience can watch and appreciate smaller complexities and themes of the film.
Blue is the Warmest Color is a love story that can dazzle many different kinds of people. With the beautiful and immersive artwork from Julie Muroh’s graphic novel, to the naturalistic and powerful filmmaking of Abdellatif Kechiche paired with wonderful and believable performances by Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux.
While anyone can appreciate the work and artistic merit that both versions present, both versions were made for a specific audience to enjoy the love story between the two women. Julie Muroh’s strong relatable protagonist and beautiful art work is inspiring and helpful to a young adult audience and allows them to connect with a lesbian character. Kechiche’s film can help bring this unique lesbian relationship to a more analytical audience who can appreciate the complexities and the reality between the love that the two women share with each other. Either way, both versions of Blue is the Warmest Color offer a powerful and realistic relationship between Clementine/Adele and Emma. The relationship is touching and allows the audience to connect with the characters in a touching and emotionally powerful way.
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