Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Colour is a sensitive, beautifully illustrated lesbian coming out story set in France in the 1990s. High school junior Clementine falls in love with Emma, a punkish, confident girl with blue hair. We know from the first page that the story won’t end well — the novel begins with Emma visiting Clementine’s parents after Clementine’s death. As we later then view their relationship unfold through Clementine’s journals, there is a bittersweet tinge throughout. We see Clementine’s first, confused, feelings of sexual attraction, and we see Emma’s reading and responding to these words.
Their romance is itself rather bittersweet. Emma has a jealous girlfriend at the time, and Clementine has been drilled to believe that homosexuality is wrong. And even when Clementine feels ready to take the plunge, Emma is hesitant to risk it. The conservatism of Clementine’s family takes a disheartening turn, and the story leaps forward several years, presenting a rather bleak picture that sadly feels realistic. The ending felt rather unnecessarily dramatic, but the rest of the story is told with such subtlety and grace that the novel as a whole is still really strong.
Maroh’s storytelling is subtle and her illustrations graceful and lovingly rendered. Even her sexually explicit scenes are more about making love than having sex. Her decision to render everything in shades of gray with accents of blue gives the story a dreamy feel; the treatment almost feels like music.
In a Q&A with the publisher, Maroh points out that even though the book is first set in 1994, the climate for queer youth in France still hasn’t improved much. She says, “The best thing this book could do is help queer youth, somewhere, somehow.” Indeed.
The live-action French film version of this novel was the winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes 2013. It will be released in North America in Fall 2013 through Sundance Selects/IFC Films (USA) and Mongrel Media (Canada). Given how musical the story felt even on the page, I can’t wait to see it translated on the screen.
International trailer with English subtitles below:
Thank you to Arsenal Pulp Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.