This French graphic novel came to my attention after the film that was based on it won the Palme D’Or at Cannes last year. It tells the story of a high school girl, Clementine, who is living a normal life until she meets the blue-haired Emma first in passing and then again in a bar. The woman with the unnatural hair color stirs feelings in the younger girl that she’s never experienced before and the two begin a relationship that changes both of their lives. What’s most striking about the book is how natural writer/artist Julie Maroh makes the girls’ relationship feel. Yes, there’s plenty of angsting from Clementine and some prejudice from her friends, but you really get the feeling that what’s happening between these two women is meant to be. It’s a story that argues for the freedom of love to be had by all regardless of boundaries, nationalities, or genders and does it with a lightness of touch that most other stories with a message on their minds would envy.
At least, that’s how it is for the first three-quarters of the narrative. Then there’s a shocking development and a jump forward in time to a point where Clementine and Emma’s relationship has cooled. Seeing how this transformative relationship withered and exploring how the women grew apart isn’t an unworthy subject to explore. It suffers here because not only does Maroh not have the time to develop it, but the execution his hamstrung by her apparent need to force a particular ending on this story. Suffice to say there’s cheating, a drug habit and medical condition that come out of nowhere, and a tragic death to make things extra heartbreaking for all involved. That was clearly the idea, the reality is underwhelming. Things would’ve been better served if this story was told over two volumes -- there’s a clear opportunity for a break at page 129 -- with one covering the relationship’s early years and the other covering the later ones. In its current form, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is still worth reading to see how its very human characters respond to love from an unexpected place even as it ends in a way that drags the whole experience down.