animated · cinema · foreign · Uncategorized

{film} song of the sea

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

—Song of the Sea‘s lines borrowed from “The Stolen Child” by William Butler Yeats

The Secret of Kells‘ (2009; my review) Tomm Moore returns with another visually stunning and beautifully written film: Song of the Sea (2014).

From the very beginning of the film, I couldn’t stop with the exclamations. The style, color palette, direction, the weave of the story, the utter charm of its characters and their story.

The story is of the care for the last remaining seal child and Ben’s little sister. Saoirse is literally a thing of legend, a selkie who can save the magical world from turning to stone (rendered inanimate) and thus, destined for oblivion. While Saoirse has the concern of a grieving father and an interfering paternal grandmother, it is Ben who has been entrusted with the stories of his mother; the stories that can help Saoirse in their quest. However, first there are some familial issues to address.

The night Saoirse is born is the night Ben loses his mother to the sea and his father to grief. She is also a strong-willed little sister and prone to thieving. What is lovely in the film is how each child uniquely carries their mother’s legacy. The lore they are tasked to remember, and, indeed, enact is expressed in art (painted murals, map-making, sculptures), music (instrument, vocal), and storytelling (written and oral).

Echoes of the mythic are found in the real world. Granny & Macha and Ferry Dan & The Great Seanachaí (to name two) not only share familiarity in illustration, but the voice talent of Fionnula Flanagan and Jon Kenny respectively. The echoes thread conversations on the urban versus the rural; the sea and the land; the ancient and present; in the relationships of a parent and child. The story reveals an interdependence between the magical creatures of lore, and then a connection with humankind. In the film, humankind expresses a greater reliance upon the supernatural than the other way about. The iconography in the homes, communities, and surrounding wells (e.g. the holy well) is hard to ignore. The murals in the lighthouse home of Ben and Saoirse are not simple backdrops. Ben’s participation in (re)creating them is not without significance. Lore provides a sense of hope, and answers.

Song of the Sea resonates with familiar concerns in lines delivered by old-parental concern: “I know what’s best for you” and “children should be without care, without worries.” Do you? Are they? Ben wears his life jacket and frets when his sister is drawn to the sea (his little curses are amusing, his leash is hilarious), but the fear of risk ages them all. Saoirse begins to wither away, denied the wholeness of herself (her coat, the sea). Ben is left with the (dis)comfort of his memories. How is one to remember and yet let it go in order to heal. How does one bear the weight of a great sadness, a great loss. In the end, it is the confrontation, not the running away that returns the family to rights. It is in the strong characterization of the children that we are entrusted to lead the way.

The film hasn’t a lightness of heart (think Finding Nemo 2003), but it has all a charm that allows for the darker tones it carries.

Ben and Saoirse, in a race against time, are set on an adventure that returns them to the sea. Both children are tasked with fulfilling their mother’s legacy and reconcile relationships within the realms of lore and humankind. Song of the Sea is scenic, often humorous, and extremely perilous. Tomm Moore writes and directs a thrilling adventure that is full of charm and held breaths.

—–Song of the Sea (2014)—-

Director & Story by Tomm Moore; Written by Will Collins; Produced by Paul Young & Claus Toksvig Kjaer; Music by Bruno Coulais & Kila; Edited by Darragh Byrne.

Countries: Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg. Starring (aka voiced by): David Rawle (Ben), Lucy O’Connell (Saoirse), Lisa Hannigan (Bronach), Fionnula Flanagan (Granny/Macha), Jon Kenny (Ferry Dan / The Great Seanachaí) and Brendon Gleeson (Conor/Mac Lir).
Running Time: 93 minutes. Rated PG for some mild peril, language and pipe smoking images.

"review" · cinema · foreign · recommend

{film} ginger and rosa

ginger-rosa-2012-posters-alice-englert-32604818-1181-886Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) have been best friends since their birth in the year 1945.  As the opening footage reminds us, this is the year the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima (& Nagasaki). The pair are now 17 in 1962 London and looking to declare their independence from their mothers once more.  This rebirth takes place in the auspicious year of another massive bomb threat, global events culminating in a Cuban Missile Crisis.

Even though Ginger and Rosa have their differences, they are intimate friends, sharing everything. In fact, they take pride in their transparency and steadfastness. You’ll note how often they are dressed alike (& how this diverges). The friendship takes on a special vitality under the threat of doomsday and crumbling households, which makes the increasing sensation of their growing apart particularly distressing in the film.

GINGER AND ROSA by Sally PotterAs with any coming-of-age story, the hero’s desire an ability to exercise “autonomous thought, personal truth, freedom of action.” Of course, Ginger’s father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), to whom is attributed the quote, cites these as his “guiding principles” as someone who has supposedly already come-of-age. I say “supposedly” because his is a character that is troublingly adolescent; which troubles these principles that other adults in the film actually agree with.

gingerrosaGinger and Rosa is a YA-related film that actually has adults (& no marketable soundtrack). Indeed, one part of the conflict is mentorship or appropriate adult figures to the youth in transition. Roland’s lifestyle tempered by that of Ginger’s (awesome) family friends Mark (Timothy Spall), Mark Two (Oliver Platt) and Bella (Annette Benning), and the lives of Ginger and Rosa’s mothers. The girls feel neglected and harassed by their mothers, but Ginger does find counsel with the family friends and political writings (she tries to discuss Simone de Beauvoir with Rosa at one point, is reading T.S. Eliot). Bella is a poet-activist, what Ginger wants to be. Rosa, who is not the primary protagonist of the two, seeks the advice of popular magazines and a faith we assume is handed down from her mother.

Rosa seeks the more domestic goals. Careless of the scope of a global crisis, she desires a love that will last, that can shelter and carry her through anything in the present. Whether she truly understands Roland or not, they share a similar focus in their seize the day philosophy, tired of pandering to the self-serving demands of their authority figures. Ginger feels that life might require some sacrifice, particularly on the part of the other. Writer/director Sally Potter creates an active passivity in Ginger’s character, the conflict of desiring to yield to those she loves, for the sake of those she loves, yet also doing something that could change things for the betterment of everyone.  We fear she will self-destruct before the bomb even actualizes.

ginger-and-rosa-image05In some ways, Ginger and Rosa are Roland in two parts. And we come to anticipate that perhaps it is not only the mothers the girls need to liberate themselves from, but their fathers, or shared father (as Rosa’s left long before). Potter does play ambiguously with the daddy-issues available to the female coming-of-age story. That it manifests in the sexual act is noteworthy; as is a female director’s handling of it. She does not eroticize the abuses, nor does she accuse the girls as Ginger’s mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) does.

In a story where these young women are testing boundaries, believing they know better than their mothers about the modern world and their sexuality (timeless, right?), a figure catches us off-guard and proves to be a potentially fatal conflict in the narrative.

Ginger is constantly preoccupied with the looming sensation of the end of the world. While bombs could be dropped, she believes it with a terrifying certainty. She has chosen this as something she can believe in, now to believe that she can and will do something to make it all stop. Honestly, I was not optimistic her poetry was going to do anything for her or the cause. Meanwhile, the domestic scene suffers an increasingly catastrophic fall-out that does culminate in an explosion.


Ginger & Rosa is not the most uplifting film for a summer evening (I propose an autumn viewing). However, it is a beautifully crafted one. And I suppose there is a certain gift of optimism the final confrontation affords. Ginger is still pursuing her voice and the desire to love in healthy and profound ways. Sally Potter closes the film with Ginger in the foreground, pen in hand. The film is sad though, Potter allowing her characters to be complex, unwilling to shift them too dramatically. She chooses the comforts of realism over the mythological. Potter disrupts that otherwise fairytale beginning of two girls, best friends from birth, filmed in a charming, magical fashion with the opening footage of the Hiroshima bombing. Potter disrupts a lot of things.


Of note: I realized at the end of my writing, I did not address an important aspect to this film, which is the disarming perspective of 1962 from London. No, actually, the import is the weight the actors bring. We all know by now that Elle Fanning is an actress to watch, but the entirety of the casting should encourage prospective viewers. The film is an excellent one, and its casting does not hurt at. all.


ginger and rosa posterGinger & Rosa (2012); writer/director Sally Potter; editing by Anders Refn; cinematography Robbie Ryan; executive producers Reno Antoniades, Aaron L. Gilbert, Goetz Grossmann, Heidi Levitt, Joe Oppenheimer & Paula Vaccaro; producers Jonas Allen, Lene Bausager, Caroline Blanco, Peter Bose, Margot Hand, Kurban Kassam, Andrew Litvin, Christopher Sheppard, & Michael Weber. BBC Films, British Film Institute, & Det Danske Filminstitut; A24.

Starring : Elle Fanning (Ginger), Alice Englert (Rosa), Alessandro Nivola (Roland), Christina Hendricks (Natalie), Jodhi May (Anoushka), Timothy Spalding (Mark), Oliver Platt (Mark Two), & Annette Benning (Bella).

Rated PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language. Running Time 90 minutes

"review" · cinema · foreign · mystery · recommend

{television} the fall

The-fall-highres_8colThe Fall (2013) is a dark television series out of the UK that should appeal to viewers of Wallander (2008), Broadchurch (2013), and True Detective (2014). Its degree of ‘disturbing’ fits right in there between Broadchurch and True Detective; so while the impulse may be to binge-watch season one, the content is hard to take in such heavy doses. That said, episodes end with that tantalizing effect of “I need to see what happens.” Just, if you have to binge, begin really early in the day and find something cheerful before bed.

Alan Cubitt created a series in The Fall that follows a talented investigator’s hunt for a serial killer. There is another storyline that I failed to mind early on, nor did I actually care to retrace it as the series was racing toward the finale. I would apologize, but you’ll understand how transfixing the serial killer storyline is if you decide to watch—and how transfixing Gillian Anderson is as Detective Stella Gibson.

The Fall
Gillian Anderson is as Detective Stella Gibson

On loan from the MET, Gibson is a highly educated investigator who negotiates her surroundings with what I hate to call out as startling confidence. She demonstrates a kind of self-possession that will excite feminist viewers. I’m still giddy over her encounter in the washroom with Jim Burns (John Lynch) where she refuses to take the traditional sexual burden of the female. A great article takes shape: How Stella Gibson Leans-In at her Workplace.

The pacing is cinematic in the narrative scope of the show. The series is very much about the crime-drama, but the characters and relationships develop and unfold slowly. It is very much a domestic drama as well, and the violence paired with the domestic translates into some fantastic social commentary.

The Fall tackles a lot of mythologies regarding women, men, and sexual predation. Often the show uses our cultural expectations to its advantage. For example, if you think that had the woman not lived alone, she wouldn’t be such an easy target (invitation). And this is where I caution as to the brutality of some of the sequences. Although, a great deal of the terror in tension is in the quiet invasions, the contemplation of the horrors waiting just beyond a child’s mobile, a dark corner just off the bathroom….

Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector

Other unusual facets to anticipate? The serial killer of single young career women is a very attractive young male, loving husband, and father of two—one of whom is a little girl. Jamie Dornan (Once Upon a Time) as Paul Spector creates a gorgeous conflict; physically he is well-cast, but his acting is better than I’d anticipated. Anyone completing a dynamic with Gillian Anderson has to be excellent. After all, Anderson is the show maker.

That series one spends its entirety on the case of the serial killer (and the other surfacing line I forget), contributes to the sense that the show is driven by character over plot.  They are not actors coloring within the lines of a plot. We learn not to anticipate the crime or the investigation, but the criminal and the investigator in our wondering how the show might progress. In other words, the psychological drama remains and is played out in the characterization; e.g. how they negotiate the intrusions on their primary occupations. The success is in how disturbing the results are. Whether good-guy or bad-, the characters are terrifying because of such an emphasis on realism.

As the series began to close, the pacing was heart-thumping and well, I might have flat-lined in a bit of a shock there at the end. I both love and hate The Fall for its series 1 finale. Most of the hatred is directed at the wait for series 2 now.


"review" · cinema · foreign · recommend · wondermous

{film} the broken circle breakdown

Veerle Baetens (Elise) & Johan Heldenbergh (Didier), The Broken Circle Breakdown

When Sean and I saw the trailer for The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) some time back, we were fascinated by the idea of a Belgium film featuring blue grass. We wondered maybe that it was a Belgium film set in the American South, but no. It’s just that Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) is in love with blue grass music. Bill Monroe is his hero.

Director Felix van Groeningen’s film is about Didier and Elise (Veerle Baetens) who fall in love at first sight and, despite differences, begin to build a life together. They have a daughter Maybelle (“like Maybelle Carter”) played beautifully by Nell Cattrysse who manages both spunky girlhood and the deathly pallor of cancer. Maybelle’s condition tests an otherwise idyllic marriage, the differences surfacing in riveting explosions of rage and grief.

I described the film with a linearity it does not adopt. The transitions in and out of the present have an overall organic feel within the narrative, but are not easily anticipated (which is a praise, not a criticism). The story is easy to follow despite the time-shifts, or because of them. I can’t imagine The Broken Circle Breakdown told any other way. The simultaneity of lives being built and destroyed, the blossoming and the disintegration, is necessary to the complexity of the film and its story. Love and heartbreak are constant companions; you glimpse them in Didier’s look of adoration and fear when he watches Elise. Heldenbergh captures that sense of awe that love demands.

broken marry

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a moving and heartbreaking portrayal of a life. Didier and Elise live in a small haven with farm/ranch animals, good friends (the band), and a sense of humor about their needs. But the world intrudes, and their faith suffers heavy blows. Didier’s love for America and its ideals is particularly painful to witness in its disillusionment.

But Didier still has his music, his blue grass band adding singer/actress Baetens’ Elise as a vocalist. They harmonize well, singing the songs in their original English. They even affect the word “Alabama” with a near-perfect southern inflection. The music is used judiciously, reminding us that the blue grass is born in context, not just performed on a stage for entertainment. The songs add to the narrative texture of the film, posing as transitions, but are primarily situated as storyteller. The music and its origins are at the heart of the film. Didier explains the presence of blue grass near the start of the film as he describes his passion for it to his lover Elise. There is beauty and there is suffering.

broken screenshot_00003

A lot of stories want to open at the beginning of a relationship so that you can fall in love with the characters as they fall in love. Elise and Didier’s cute meet is certainly charming, but having our first introduction in the hospital with their 6-7 year old child and years into relationship creates a startling investment as well. You are asked to appreciate the first blush and the commitment. And we need to love them at the hardest times, because that first rush of blood to the head is too easy, too common. The shift in sex scenes from their romance through the test of their commitment is moving. The shifts in body language are remarkable in the actors’ achievement. Heldenbergh has the intense gaze, but Baetens vibrates with emotion, even when she is completely still and looking away. I appreciate that the camera afforded them their bodies, the present-day impulse for innumerable close-ups resisted. Of course, the tall and lanky cowboy and the tattooed punk/rockabilly look deserve their screen time.

I never shook the strangeness of witnessing that, which to me is so essentially American, performed and set in Belgium. The foreign and the familiar cohere in a large conversation in the film as to why we have our mythologies; when they work and do harm. The idealism toward America shifts necessarily toward the benefits of living in Belgium. The music, though Didier knows it history, has a quality that is transcendent of borders, of nationalities.

Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) w/ Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse)

A struggle in the film is in how to parse the hard surfaces of reality with its more extravagant acts of passion, etc. How and when to let go and allow the other the belief they need. The bird flying into the glass, the stars, the inked skin, The Broken Circle Breakdown establishes and explores conversations in images. You’ll note which images linger as the film whittles its way to the baring of bones. Too, we see the harsh realities (well-lit) take on the surreal in the sequences of disintegration—sequences that harbor a certain kind of joy. We’ve descended into night-scenes and rain, but the film closes in a day-lit room in white.

Didier’s lesson is one of letting go, of surrendering at key moments. Even so, The Broken Circle Breakdown settles into an acceptance and a celebration without turning up roses. But then, life is unresolved; the stories involve human beings. While we can write a synopsis in which the two protagonists are typed representational, the narrative is fairly muddied by human complexity nonetheless. The actors carry off self-possessed and memorable characters and they arrive at a decision of what they are able to abide in a relationship that is not only their own, but has their daughter ever in mind. Have those handkerchiefs ready. Listen and watch as they sing hymns amidst a disintegration of faith. The courage in the characters is marvelous. And, of course, there is the blue grass.

the trailer:


broken coverThe Broken Circle Breakdown (2012); Director Felix van Groeningen; based on the play “Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama” written by Johan Heldenbergh & Mieke Dobbels; adapted to screen by van Groeningen & Carl Joos, Charlotte Vandermeersch collaborating; Music by Bjorn Eriksson; Cinematography by Ruben Impens; Editing Nico Leunen; Produced by Dirk Impens, Arnold Helsenfeld, Laurette Schillings, Frans van Gestel, Rud Verzyck. Starring: Johan Heldenbergh (Didier/Monroe), Veerle Baetens (Elise/Alabama), & Nell Cattrysse (Maybelle).

Flemish w/ English subtitles; Running time: 111 minutes; No-rating, there is coarse language, sex, and nudity, plan accordingly.

"review" · cinema · fiction · foreign · mystery · recommend

{television} Mans

Heard rumors BBC comedy drama, Jim Field Smith directed Wrong Mans (2013) was good, and have had it queued to watch. Don’t put off the Mathew Baynton and James Corden created/written show (available on HULU) like we did. Especially if you could use a bit of post-holiday pick-me-up.

wrong mans image

It all begins by answering someone else’s phone. The consequences of mistaken identity is compounded by further misapprehensions in a series of six thirty-minute episodes wherein Sam Pinkett (Mathew Baynton), Town Planning and Noise Guidance Advisor for Berkshire County Council, and his acquaintance and accomplice Phil Bourne (James Corden), the mail room employee, try to survive one unexpected disaster after another. The madness is in just how mixed-up everything becomes, the brilliance is in how the series works it all out—and ends it. Yeah, that ending is deliciously demented.


Sam and Phil are just your average guys which makes their feats of bravery amidst all the intrigue all that more astounding—and entertaining. The show is just ridiculously funny with clever little touches—the credits person has too much fun. And stick around for credits to catch the synopsis of the episode in little animations.

The actors are obviously having a good time with this little comedy, but the camera-work and editing are just as playful. The Wrong Mans is a wild ride, completely silly and wonderful.

of noteThey’ve been getting some flak for the poor grammar in the title–apparently poor grammar is not a laughing matter for some. The opening sequence of credits clarify matters, as does the opening episode. The “wrong man” becomes two when Phil gets involved; and really, you should not mistake the series for being dark & broody noir as ‘Wrong Men’ would only suggest.


wrong mans

Wrong Mans (2013). Directed by Jim Field Smith. Written/Created by Mathew Baynton and James Cordon, w/ co-writer Tom Basden; composer Kevin Sargent; editors David Webb & Victoria Boydell; Exec Producers Charlotte Koh & Mark Freeland; producers Mr. Smith, Charlie Leech & Lucy Robinson. Set/Shot: UK. BBC2 Television. Starring: Mathew Baynton (Sam Pinkett), James Corden (Phil Bourne), Sarah Solemani (Lizzie), Tom Basden (Noel Ward).

"review" · cinema · foreign · mystery · recommend · wondermous

{television} finding miss fisher

miss fisher's murder mysteriesIt is 1920s Melbourne and the sophisticated Miss Phryne Fisher is fearless in the face of injustice as a lady detective and woman.

The Australian television drama series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was one of our favorite finds of 2013. Created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger and based on novels by Kerry Greenwood, its first run of 13 episodes during 2012 popped up on Netflix. Intrigued, and noting its multi-star rating, we gave it a go and were hooked. Now to figure out how to get ahold of Series 2. The inseparable personal and professional drama of Miss Fisher’s life is addictive.

The majority of our favorite mystery-drama television series are terribly dark, so imagine our delight at the bright humor and wit that is Miss Fisher. While there are dark elements, including some pretty gruesome deaths and heinous social injustices, an effervescent Phryne (played by the enormously talented Essie Davis) is gloriously incorrigible. I’m not sure which I enjoy more, her mischief or razor sharp intelligence—not that I should choose, because they are intertwined. She has determination and bravado in spades, but avoids being strident in how sincerely she cares for her friends and the present-day social issues of women, men, the immigrant, poor and ill.

“‘Phryne is such a firebrand, she’s a good role model for women and she’s a feminist without being at all didactic or boring,’ says [Deb] Cox. ‘Her social conscience is fantastic, her values are fantastic, so it’s a great thing to put out there. And she likes a bit of action, she’s not hung up in any way.’” (Vogue Australia interview*)

The series is historically informative in an effortless way, primarily due to the fact that Phryne runs contrary to the normatives—even in our present day representations of women. For one, pretty much every other episode hosts a steamy sexual encounter at her invitation. She shoots, drives, and demands a word, or three. She isn’t interested in being tied down, but she does want to be loved and seeks the care and affection of friends. Her troubled relationship with Melbourne Police Detective John “Jack” Robinson (Nathan Page) becomes one of the most endearing in the due course of the show. I will get to her wardrobe and art collection in a moment.


{Jack (Nathan Page) & Phryne (Essie Davis)}

Miss Fisher uses some of the best implementation of charm I’ve seen in a long while.

miss fisher hugh and dotThe strength of the extended cast and characters helps. The first episode, “Cocaine Blues” introduces most of the primary characters moving forward as Phryne returns to Melbourne from abroad. Naturally, some are developed more quickly, but each are a resource for much of the adventures we come to experience and I’d be hard-pressed to choose an absolute favorite. I do have an affection for Dorothy “Dot” Williams (Ashleigh Cummings, left), a Catholic housemaid who is a prim foil for the wealthy and uninhibited Honorable Miss Fisher. Hers is one of the most enjoyable character progressions over series 1. Bert (Travis McMahon) and Cec (Anthony Sharpe) become handy men to have about. We’ll soon meet the awesome Mr. Butler (Richard Bligh); another character to enjoy in the unfolding. It is hard not to adore the well-played constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt, left). Female Dr. Mac (Tammy Macintosh) is a best friend and excellent source of information—and conflict.

I mentioned ‘historically informative’ and ‘social injustices,’ but the conditions for women provide a lot of the material for the series, and lovely relevance to having a female detective about. She has insight and access her male counterparts couldn’t possibly. Makes me think of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes. That she is well-traveled and well-read work in the shows favor.


We’ve been enjoying identifying the Phryne’s art collection, and eventually (episode 7) we get more of a background there. And I can’t go much longer now without mention of Phyrne’s costume. I think all the clothes are smart, but I get terribly excited by Phryne’s clothing and accessories. I was reading about how Costume Designer Marion Boyce headed a small team to recreate 1920s fashion of gorgeously suitable proportion.

miss-fisher-s_20120222170202466550-420x0“Phryne is a really sassy individual and the leeway she allows is fantastic. She wasn’t conventional in any way – she’d served in the war, lived in Paris in bohemian style, and probably travelled further afield. This meant our parameters were wider and we could have an enormous amount of fun with her. Phryne’s influences would’ve been European. At the time, most of our dress was influenced by UK fashion, and because she’s lived in Paris, her boundaries are broader. She was much more playful than the more conservative English. […] I had this concept that Phryne was always completely fluid. She was a woman with an extraordinary amount of energy, like a little tornado. I always wanted her clothes to have a waft to them so they would move with her as she went in and out of rooms, taking Melbourne by storm. I designed pieces with that in mind.”-Marion Boyce (Smith interview**).

As Darren Smith observes in his interview with Boyce, her wardrobe is an enviable one…seriously, the hats alone…


Miss Fisher is a vivacious character with a marvelous cast, not just in support of her, to play out entertaining mysteries and engaging social dramas. Some of the bright does move into a riveting creep-fest as the season closes, you’ve seen it coming as Miss Fisher is not the least bit careless in its crafting even though, for the first several episodes especially, you can just jump in and enjoy the fun.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries are a treat I cannot recommend highly enough.


trailer for season 1

* “Behind the Set of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries with Essie Davis” by Alexandra Spring, 10 Mar. 2012, Vogue Australia. link

** “Marion Boyce: Designing Miss Fisher’s Wardrobe” by Darren Smith, 27 Mar. 2012, for ABC TV Blog (Australia). link


Miss_Fisher's_Murder_MysteriesMiss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger, based on novels by Kerry Greenwood; theme music by Greg J Walker; cinematography by Roger Lanser; costumes by Marion Boyce; exec/producers: Cox, Eagger, Christopher Gist & Carole Sklan; Every Cloud Productions. Starring: Essie Davis (Phryne Fisher), Nathan Page (Jack Robinson) Hugo Johnstone-Burt (Hugh Collins) & Ashleigh Cummings (Dorothy “Dot” Williams).  {images belong to ABC1}

as of this review, available streaming on Netflix

"review" · fiction · foreign · Lit · recommend · Uncategorized

{comic} blue is the warmest color

blue is coverBlue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger

Arsenal Pulp Press, English edition, 2013.

published in France, 2010, by Glenat Editions as Le blue est une couleur chande.

Clementine is a junior in high school who seems “normal” enough: she has friends, family, and the romantic attention of the boys in her school. When her openly gay best friend takes her out on the town, she wanders into a lesbian bar where she encounters Emma: a punkish, confident girl with blue hair. Their attraction is instant and electric, and Clementine find herself in a relationship that will test her friends, parents, and her own ideas about herself and her identity.–publisher’s comments.

*********up to the asterisk line is closer to a reading and will not spoil everything about the story as I do hope you will read this for yourself at some point. After the asterisk, it is closer to “review” form (4 para.) if you desire to begin there.*******

Blue is the Warmest Color begins with a letter being read, cinematically it is a voice-over, “My Love.” The letter introduces Emma to the diaries Clementine (the author of the letter) has kept, but “all of [her] adolescent memories are in the blue one.” Along with letters read and the present-day thoughts from Emma, the blue diary is the source from which flashbacks of Clementine’s coming of age will be drawn. It is with this diary, Emma writes about the color blue, how “Blue has become the warmest color.”

blue is 9781551525136_1.480x480-75

Clementine’s diary takes us back to 1994, aged 15, and her first boyfriend, the one with whom she is unable to return affection.  Clementine’s reluctance is perceived even before the encounter with the girl with the blue-hair upon a street-crossing, but it intensifies afterward. Clementine struggles with this awakening, questioning what is natural and right. She tries only to do that which is expected of her, but she is uncomfortable within her own skin.

Maroh establishes the culture from which Clementine is emerging. Clementine’s outspokenly homophobic mother and just as repulsed father are fearsome. She begins to lose friends by just associating with her new friend, Emma. And they are just friends, Clementine and the blue-haired girl Emma. Emma is in a long-term relationship. She is older, lives on her own, and attends university. She doesn’t realize that Clementine’s longing for her has become painful with the passing of time. And Clementine experiences that age-old conflict: do you risk a friendship to profess your romantic love?

Clementine’s school mate Valentin is able to recognize her anxieties and becomes her lean-to. He helps her to become bolder, fight for herself. But in truth, it is that obsessive impulse (desperation) in love that creates boldness in Clementine.

Clementine and Emma find a more physical expression of their feelings for one another. Emma worries that Clementine is just curious, experimenting, and perhaps a certain audience will wonder the same: sexually confused teen and all that. The sex scene strips that all away. And yet, there are plenty of uncertainties to fuel the verisimilitude that marks the pair’s romance. For one, there is still Emma’s partner, Sabine. Time apart after various misunderstandings. Clementine’s parents.

There are few odd notes in Blue is the Warmest Color. Why, after discussing (post-coital) the phobias of Clementine’s parents, would Emma descend to the kitchen to get a drink—naked? It works rather neatly to punctuate just why Clementine has been so secretive, but it left me shaking my head. Fortunately, Emma’s family is willing to receive Clementine warmly. And here were get a second odd note: a 13 year leap through time. I didn’t expect that when she writes: “I grew up faster than I expected” (130), we would get to experience that same sense of time passing. Atop framed-out panels marking said passage, a nude Clementine (with longer hair, braided) lay in the fetal position. The images support the gestational image, her vulnerability, and the nurturing of a rebirth. And yet, we find that she has yet to come into her own. She still has difficulty becoming comfortable in her own skin.

We learn earlier that Sabine helped introduce Emma to community, to feeling liberated in her body and mind. Clementine emerges from Emma’s embrace differently. Hers is a different story.

 “For Emma, her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social and political thing. For me, it’s the most intimate thing there is. /She calls it cowardice, but all I want is to be happy…/one way or another…/like everyone else” (131).

In the discovery of the other, her lover, Clementine would discover more about herself; by being open to Emma, she becomes open to herself. But the wounds fear inflicts on them individually and together haunt their relationship.



Blue is the Warmest Color is a story of love and betrayal, and of finding one’s way against odds that are both self- and culturally-inflicted. It wends its way from that physical and emotional infatuation, that obsessive longing toward an eloquent and abiding love that is no less passionate, but tempered by the maturity of time. Theirs is a love story.

While Clementine and Emma experience uncertainty and self-doubt at turns, the story begins on a note (a letter) of certainty that that persists. Blue is the Warmest Color demonstrates one of the best uses of the framed narrative. All that occurs in the middle, it is held secure in a knowing.  Emma and Clementine, each imperfect beings, will find their way to this deep understanding and be comforted by it, and so will the reader. Theirs is a true love, even if it is a tragic one. Theirs is a beautiful, hard-won love story we can read again and again.

The Artwork:

You’ll be shocked to find that the color of a warm blue stands out on the page, especially in the ink wash of the flashback/diary. Frames outside of the diary take on color, reds, yellows, greens, but even then the blues seduce the eye. We mind where it is used. I mentioned the overlay of a Clementine’s figure on a progression of framed images (130). She aids in a transition of color, taking on faint tones in her skin and hair while the bottom right frames placing her at age 30 and teaching are colored in. It is a subtle and beautiful transition to mark that unexpected passing of time. Frames are straightforward and text fairly easy to follow, though the squiggle off the speech bubble was sometimes tricky. Neither framing lines nor color differentiate dreams as Clementine finds these lines mutable, Emma ever in her thoughts, arousing her, etc. Maroh evades the fanciful, but strives for the impact realism lends her characters and the subjects that matter.

Aesthetically, the illustrations grew on me, but the artwork was not a first love, and I can’t say I yet am won over to it. I am glad I did not let this get in the way of reading Blue is the Warmest Color. A flip-through will not yield much in the way of story, either through text or image: be fair to you and Blue is and read this one through to avoid misapprehensions. The language a character uses reflects their age and experience, so passionate exclamations will be heard and seen; that said, neither are these moments devalued. These rave reviews, they are responding to the sincerity of the images and encounters. If you have experienced love, actualized or unrequited, brash or completely sane, you will be moved by Maroh’s story, by pages spare of text, yet always touched by that blue, and by a hopeful longing and a sorrow—I love that combination.

Recommendations: Blue is the Warmest Color is for people who love love stories; and I mean stories about real love, the sort that expose flaws and thrives despite them, the sort of story about love where love is built into the imperfections of the characters rather than the perfections of a clean and shiny narrative.


A caution for those of you who may be uncomfortable with nudity and sexual activity in a graphic novel…there is nudity and sexual activity in this graphic novel. It isn’t gratuitous, if that helps.

{Images belong to Julie Maroh}