VOD film review: The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue)
Ivan Radford | On 09, Sep 2016
Director: Mathieu Amalric
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Léa Drucker, Stéphanie Cléau
Watch The Blue Room online in the UK: Currently not available on VOD
It’s not often that you complain of a film not being long enough. The Blue Room, the latest directorial effort from actor Mathieu Amalric, may seem guilty of that to some – it stretches (just about) to 76 minutes. But there is a complexity beneath the simple surface that sinks its hooks into you.
Based on George Simenon’s novel, the film follows Julien (Amalric), a not-so-happily married husband to Delphine (Delphine), who is having an affair with Esther (Cléau), the wife of the local chemist. We begin in the wild throes of their infidelity, but Amalric immediately sets the dial to prickly as well as passion. Drops of blood and unseen glances are the order of the day. Careful, the director warns: here there be thorns.
The film swoons with a sensual immediacy as readily as it wakes up with an icy splash – we go from the blue hotel room where they conduct their encounters to a police room with barely a pause for breath. Why is Julien there? Has he done something? Has Esther done something? Have they done something together? What unfolds is not just a “whodunnit?”, but also a “what-did-they-do?” – and Amalric keeps the answer from us with calculated precision.
Partners in real life, Cléau and Amalric are superb together – and apart – as we scrutinise them for any flecks of guilt. Cléau is enigmatic, alluring and, we soon discover, dangerous, while Amalric has the screen presence he brought to his Bond villain role, combined with an almost rattish twitch of culpability. Supported by Léa Drucker’s increasingly suspicious spouse, they produce a quietly gripping chamber piece that seduces with its intoxicating mystery. That mystery loses some of its impact as it unravels, but seeing its impact upon Julien remains enticing right until the end – Amalric’s wide-eyed silence is fascinating to watch.
He’s equally understated behind the camera, delivering a refreshingly old-fashioned sexual thriller that eschews over-the-top style or endless, complex twists. Subtle visual cues – the courtroom we see in the film’s second half is also blue – reinforce the sense of inevitable capture and punishment, while the 1:33 aspect ratio adds to the claustrophobic feel. With Esther and her motivations remaining almost frustratingly elusive, it would be nice if there were a little more narrative bite to go with its femme fatale, but that minimal approach leaves you mulling over the movie long after its brief runtime, and shines a stripped-down spotlight on the real star of the piece: the prickly, inescapable tangles of love and lust. A deceptively elegant – and confidently slender – piece of cinema.