Blue is the Warmest Colour, Julie Maroh, 160 pgs, Arsenal Pulp Press, arsenalpulp.com, $19.95 CAN/US
There was much ado made about the film version of this French graphic novel when it won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival this year — you know, the one with the seven-minute warts-and-all love scene between its two young female leads. Critics either praised or sputtered over the scene’s rapturous solipsism, while queer women questioned its accuracy and wondered about director Abdellatif Kechiche’s ability, as a straight male, to accurately depict the nuances of a lesbian relationship. (The film’s two stars also alleged that he was tyrannical to work with.) I haven’t seen the movie, and I do believe these conversations, in the context of this particular piece of art, are important and deserving of discussion. However, the buzz has also overshadowed Julie Maroh’s exquisite, tender and thoroughly magnificent graphic novel, and that’s truly a crime. Distributed in Canada by the mighty folks at Arsenal Pulp, I’d strongly recommend you get your hands on the source mate- rial for the truest distillation of Emma and Clementine’s story.
That story is insanely simple, by the way — girl meets girl, girl and girl fall in love, girl and girl break up, and then something else happens that I won’t spoil — but in Maroh’s hands it becomes a work of naked, heart-wrenching profundity. There are other threads, too — family and friend dynamics and sexual politics among them — but this is more than a queer romance or a coming-out coming-of-age story. This is about the most accurate depiction of a real relationship that you’ll ever see — from the breathless, dizzying, spellbinding heights of falling in love to the frustrations, the moments of fevered, impractical behaviour, the pits of despair, and the ache of memory.
The writing is spare and thoughtful and every line of dialogue snaps with experiential truth. The art, too, surges with vitality despite the fact that 70 percent of the book is in black and white — save for Emma’s hair, of course, and moments when muted hues gently seep into Emma’s present-day consciousness (the story is largely told in flashbacks.)
Seriously— I have a black lump of coal for a heart, and I wept nakedly for about an hour after reading this. I feel like I’m about to cry again now even as I write about it. It’s hard to describe how simply and elegantly Maroh uses her illustrative and narrative touch to devastate. Blue is the Warmest Color is an experience that every lover — of art, of comics, of romance, of human beings, period — must know for themselves.