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Mystery of the Yellow Room, The
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by Greg Muskewitz

"Old-fashioned board games."
4 stars

A remake of, and based on the Gaston Leroux novel by the same name, Bruno Podalydès’ film is a quaintly anachronistic whodunit in 1920s France.

Comparisons have been made to Alain Resnais’ Life Is a Bed of Roses, one of his I haven’t seen, though I do know it’s also set in the Twenties, with its stars Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi (salient Resnais staples regardless) as two of the key elements here in Yellow Room. Azéma is nearly murdered after retiring to sleep in the yellow room as her tinkerer father and his assistant work in the adjoining room; the culprit’s impossible escape prompts a thorough investigation led by Arditi, who focuses on Olivier Gourmet, Azéma’s fiancé. A secondary investigation is stirred up by the journalist Rouletabille (Denis Podalydès, Bruno’s brother) and his photographer-sidekick, who believe otherwise. A lot of attention is paid to texture, generating the right feel and look to the film, but at the same time, blending and mixing ahead-of-its-time technology and ingenuity, such as the solar-powered car that runs in silence. (I don’t know if that’s a liberty Podalydès has taken, or if Leroux was prescient.) In the same sense, the structure is so as to highlight the inventiveness in getting to the heart of the mystery: the solution. Even if such becomes slightly disingenuous — tangled, cockeyed, indecipherable without Rouletabille’s key — there is an irresistible ludic and participatory thrill in the movie’s Clue-like hunt. (As a cute gimmick, the press kit unfolds on one side to be in the fashion of a board game.) The disingenuousness continues along that route as Rouletabille and the movie choose to keep the hand of cards under the table and out of view from the viewer, opting instead to augment the deficiency by melting around a layer of humor (a cloud that temporarily stalls said solar-powered car, etc.). The infusion goes deeper than just the surface, because at the heart of the material, there’s a lot to find funny in the way the investigation is run like a chicken with its head chopped off. Formidable cast and production aside, and notwithstanding the pleasantly air-popped fun of getting to the root of the crime, The Mystery of the Yellow Room is much too light and forgettable to share more in common with a Resnais film. With Michael Lonsdale, Julos Beaucarne, Jean-Noël Brouté, and Claude Rich.


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originally posted: 02/02/04 18:45:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

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