Bon­jour trystesse

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

The Blue Room, drama, rated R, in French with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles Ge­orges Si­menon, the Bel­gian crime nov­el­ist and cre­ator of In­spec­tor Mai­gret, was a pro­lific writer, turn­ing out about a cou­ple of hun­dred nov­els and nu­mer­ous short sto­ries. This adap­ta­tion of his novel The Blue Room (on which the au­thor’s son served as as­so­ciate pro­ducer) feels like a slen­der French pa­per­back, its hour-and-15-minute run­ning time draw­ing us for­ward through a shuf­fled nar­ra­tive and frac­tured chronol­ogy so swiftly that by the time we fig­ure out what’s go­ing on, it’s over.

Mathieu Amal­ric ( The Div­ing Bell and the But­ter­fly, Venus in Fur) has a hand in ev­ery cor­ner of this tidy lit­tle film. He di­rected and co-wrote the script with Stéphanie Cléau, with whom he also co-stars. The movie opens in a ho­tel room, its walls the color promised in the ti­tle, where two lovers writhe in car­nal embrace on a rum­pled bed. An omi­nously crim­son drop of blood falls on the white sheet; the woman has bit­ten the man’s lip in a spasm of pas­sion.

Th­ese col­ors, red and blue, will con­tinue to play sig­nif­i­cant parts through­out the film. Es­ther (Cléau), a mar­ried phar­ma­cist, hangs out a red towel from her bal­cony to sig­nal to Julien (Amal­ric), a mar­ried trac­tor sales­man, when the coast is clear for them to meet in the blue ho­tel room where they pur­sue their af­fair. A red towel that Julien sees on the beach when on hol­i­day with his wife, Del­phine (Léa Drucker), and their child trig­gers some bizarre be­hav­ior. And in the endgame of the story, blue is the color that dom­i­nates the walls of the court­room where fates are de­cided and jus­tice, per­haps, is served.

The lovers’ scenes are lushly, boldly sen­sual, as naked bod­ies en­twine, and Amal­ric does not shy away from show­ing body parts not of­ten seen on-cam­era. It’s the crazi­ness, the ad­dic­tive drug of sex­ual pas­sion that he’s set­ting up, a force that can make peo­ple act in ways that would be out of the ques­tion if they were in their right minds.

“If I were sud­denly free, could you free your­self too?” Es­ther asks as they loll in post­coital embrace. Could he imag­ine them spend­ing their lives to­gether? He agrees that he could. But even here, he seems more a man caught in an un­der­tow than a man driv­ing his own des­tiny.

The struc­ture of the movie bounces us back and forth be­tween scenes of in­ter­ro­ga­tion in the of­fice of an in­ves­ti­gat­ing mag­is­trate (a very good Lau­rent Poitre­naux) and chrono­log­i­cally ran­dom scenes drawn from Julien’s set­tled home life and the in­tox­i­cat­ing begin­nings of his af­fair with Es­ther. But for the long­est time, we don’t know why he’s been hauled in by the law. We as­sume somebody’s been mur­dered, but who? How? Why? The specifics are teased out.

Julien sits numbly in the chair in the mag­is­trate’s of­fice and lis­tens as pas­sages of di­a­logue from his tryst with Es­ther in the blue room are read back to him, pas­sages so com­plete and thor­ough that they would seem to have been tran­scribed from a tape record­ing of the en­counter. But pre­sum­ably they are the har­vest­ing of his and Es­ther’s rec­ol­lec­tions in tes­ti­mony taken down by a hard­work­ing stenog­ra­pher.

The ef­fect of it all is a grad­ual dawn­ing on Julien of what he has got­ten him­self into, and Amal­ric plays much of the movie with the stunned ex­pres­sion of a man who has been kicked by a mule. He’s ef­fec­tive, but in many ways the more in­ter­est­ing per­for­mance is the one de­liv­ered by Cléau, a writer and theater di­rec­tor who is Amal­ric’s real-life com­pan­ion. Out­side the scenes of sex­ual pas­sion, she main­tains a sweet seren­ity that never markedly changes, but as the story’s cir­cum­stances un­fold, the ef­fect of her de­meanor on us, and on Julien, al­ters pow­er­fully.

The Blue Room is less of a who­dunit than a whathap­pened. As with any good mur­der mys­tery, there are clues scat­tered through­out — and by the time we reach the last part of this short, swift psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, we have a pretty good idea of what has tran­spired. It’s not a block­buster fi­nal twist that sends us out of the theater mut­ter­ing, but the cu­mu­la­tive sense of fate and cir­cum­stance that draws a man into a night­mare from which he grad­u­ally un­der­stands he will not wake up.

The movie is beau­ti­fully served by Christophe Beau­carne’s lovely, some­times claus­tro­pho­bic cam­er­a­work. It’s a cau­tion­ary tale, and one that, in the tra­di­tion of movies like Fa­tal At­trac­tion, should serve as a de­ter­rent to spouses flirt­ing with the idea of suc­cumb­ing to the temp­ta­tions of ex­tra­mar­i­tal flesh.

— Jonathan Richards

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