VERSUS – FESTIVAL DE CANNES EDITION: Blue Is The Warmest Colour

So the winner of the Palme d’Or of the 67th Cannes Film Festival was announced this weekend, with the prestigious award going to Nuri Bilge Ceylan for the film Winter Sleep. I don’t know anything about Winter Sleep, but I’m sure we’ll start hearing folks buzz about it in art house circles soon enough. But let’s take a look at last year for a moment. Last year, at the 66th Festival, the film that took home the Palme was Blue Is The Warmest Colour. The bestowal of the Palme to Blue brought about many firsts: not only was it the first film ever that was based upon a graphic novel (Blue Angel by Julie Maroh) to win the award, but it was also the first time that the prestigious Palme was awarded jointly not only to the director (Abdellatif Kechiche), but to the two lead actresses as well (Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux). This was a big deal; apart from director Jane Campion (who won the Palme in 1993 for The Piano), Seydoux and Exarchopoulos are the only other women to ever have won the award.

Unfortunately, if Blue’s victory was something you processed only partially via soundbites (if you did at all), it probably didn’t leave much of an impression. Comparisons to Rochelle, Rochelle from Seinfeld came swiftly (“a young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk…”), and the film’s three hour runtime and NC-17 rating kept its theatrical run limited to a smattering of art house theaters in big cities.

But let’s pause for a moment, shall we? You probably see up there at the title that this is a Versus post. And it’s gonna be, but it’s also gonna be a little different. See, I recently watched the film – and before I watched the film, I read the graphic novel on which it was based. Considering Blue broke so much new ground as a film when it won the Palme, I wanted to start on the page, and see how it transferred to the screen. How is the film as an adaptation? Does it translate well from page to scren? Is it better than the graphic novel? Worse? Are those last questions even fair? I think they are.

So, as always, there’s…

THE CONTENDERS:

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR – dir. Abdellatif Kechiche

Blue Is The Warmest Colour

BLUE ANGEL – auth. Julie Maroh

Blue Angel

THE STATS:

DISTRIBUTOR:

Blue Is The Warmest Colour: Ummm, indie? I think? (Sundance Selects, which is part of IFC Films, which is owned by AMC)

Blue Angel: Indie (Arsenal Pulp Press)

DURATION:

Blue Is The Warmest Colour: 180 minutes

Blue Angel: 160 pages

FRAMING DEVICE?:

Blue Is The Warmest Colour: Nope. This is pure, in-the-moment realism.

Blue Angel: Yup. The story’s presented in the present through a series of flashbacks derived from a journal.

STORY TIMESPAN:

Blue Is The Warmest Colour: It’s uncertain. Years pass, but time is mostly ambiguous.

Blue Angel: The first journal entries were from 1994, and the final ones from 2008. So fourteen years, at least.

SEX SCENES?

Blue Is The Warmest Colour:

Blue Angel: A few, but they’re brief, and not very significant plot-wise.

WAIT, WHY THE SILENCE?

Blue Is The Warmest Colour:

Blue Angel:

FINE. MOVING ON.

SO, BEAT FOR BEAT, WHICH DID IT BETTER – COLOUR OR ANGEL?

HOW ABOUT FOR CLEM AND EMMA PASSING ONE ANOTHER IN THE STREET?

Angel. It’s very poetic and understated. Colour drags it out to the point where it’s almost comical.

Also, in Colour, there is no Clementine. Her name’s been changed to Adèle, just like the actress playing her.

K. HOW ABOUT THE BAR SCENE?

Angel again. The scene in Colour feels more natural in comparison, but it meanders a bit and loses momentum. The whole film kind of does that. It has a tendency to get lost in itself. Sometimes, we go with it, and sometimes we get left behind.

THE CONFRONTATION AT SCHOOL?

This one goes to Colour – the scene is maddening, and it doesn’t shy away from how cruel kids can be to another when someone’s perceived as “different.” It slowly boils over, and is incredibly tense.

THE FIRST SEX SCENE?

Angel. The first sex scene – nay, all the sex scenes – in Colour feel like they’ve been cut in from an entirely differently movie. They don’t feel as though they exist as an extension of the characters and their passion, but rather, for us, the audience. That’s a tough feeling to shake.

THE BREAKUP SCENE?

Colour all the way. It’s devastating. Curious, though, that Emma berates Adèle for being a “dirty whore”, “slut”, etc. during this confrontation. Those aren’t words used in the book. And while Adèle/Clem does cheat on Emma in the book, the breakup scene isn’t sex-centric in nature. But in the film the scene is. I think, generally speaking, the entire film is sex-centric. And it’s to its detriment.

FEELS LIKE:

Blue Is The Warmest Colour: The film made me think more than once of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, though I don’t really know why. Thematically, there’s only a tenuous link between the two films, but it is there.

Blue Angel: I really don’t have a solid frame of reference for a story like this one in the comics realm. Maybe Stranded, from the second volume of Demo? Actually, now that I think of it, no. That’s a terrible example. So yeah, I don’t really have anything.

THE WINNER:

BLUE ANGEL

If I had just seen Blue Is The Warmest Colour as a film only, and had not had this experience linked to the comic at some point, I would have enjoyed it more. Its flaws come through more as adaptation missteps. Stylistically, the film’s here-and-now realism works quite well, and it’s particularly well-suited towards delivering conflict and tension. We watch small moments build slowly into eruptions, and it’s a gripping experience. The human moments, where people are co-existing and not battling one another, sometimes drift away from us. Blue Angel doesn’t suffer from this; while it’s more structured by comparison, it works better as a result, because we feel more attuned to Clem’s growth.

I think that’s why the film isn’t as satisfying. Adèle is introduced to us as kind of a lost child, and she more or less stays that way. Her arc is slight. But in the comic, we experience her struggle more, and we get to see the adult in her gradually emerge. The arc is more definitive. Hell, she dies in the book – she’s been dead since page one – but when past catches up to present, and we see her die, she dies fulfilled. We know this. The final lines of the book are:

Love catches fire, it trespasses, it breaks, we break, it comes back to life…we come back to life. Love may not be eternal, but it can make us eternal…beyond death, the love that we shared continues to live.

And at the end of the film? We see Adèle pensively exit an art gallery, and wander on down the street, away from the camera, her future and identity uncertain. That’s another thing that Maroh’s comic does better: it’s definitively about something (in this case, it’s a lesbian love story). The film, though, is far more ambiguous. You could certainly walk away from the film thinking that Adèle was just “going through a phase” with her relationship with Emma. In the book, her relationship with Emma was the defining, most powerful component of her existence. That’s quite a big difference, and it’s far more emotionally satisfying to have that be the conclusion.

I should point out here that Julie Maroh both wrote and illustrated Blue Angel, and visually, I prefer the comic. It’s more muted and suggestive, with less color and more rough edges than the film. It feels right. The film doesn’t feel wrong, but it doesn’t really feel right, either. Let’s go back the beginning of the story with Adèle/Clem and Emma passing one another in the street for a moment: in the comic, we see Emma’s swirl of blue hair emerge from a sea of people, and the connection between the two is startling, because the passing is just that: passing. But in the film, the passing is a much more prolonged event, and Adèle’s reaction is simply too much; she’s left standing flummoxed in the street afterwards, and a car even has to beep so she moves. It’s koi no yokan to the extreme. And it doesn’t really work.

So that’s it. The film is good but flawed, and the comic is neither – it’s simply terrific. I’d highly recommend it (you can buy it on amazon). And if you’re going to watch the movie (which is currently streaming on Netflix), I won’t discourage you, but I would recommend reading the comic first.

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