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Blue Room, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Adultery & murder. You know, the basics."
4 stars

Georges Simenon wrote "La Chambre Bleue" ("The Blue Room" in English) about sixty years ago, and it appears to be the sort of elemental crime story where only small details need be changed to bring it into the present day. Mathieu Amalric's adaptation is tight in almost every way it can be, just what you want from this sort of elemental story.

The blue room of the title is in a local hotel, where Julien Gahyde (Amalric) and Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau) have met and made love eight times in the last eleven months. They knew each other as teenagers and reconnected when Julien moved back four years ago, leading to vague talk of leaving their respective spouses. But while it doesn't look like Julien wants to end it with his wife Delphine (Lea Drucker), other conversations - with police, lawyers, psychologists, and judges - soon follow.

This situation is behind half of all the mystery thrillers ever made, and this one doesn't necessarily add many new twists to the plot: There just aren't enough characters for particularly unique permutations to emerge. What The Blue Room does, then, is to slice up the story and put it back together in an interesting way. In fact, the basic structure of this story is almost inverted, presenting the audience with the accused and their motives fairly quickly but taking plenty of time to tease out what actual crime has been committed.

Making that work means being impressively selective. Amalric and his collaborators split their perspective between Julien and the world at large, sometimes showing how what actually happened contradicts the story he has told the investigators, and other times keeping the truth just far enough out of reach for it to seem tantalizing rather than frustrating. Amalric and editor François Gédigier shift back and forth along the timeline with impressive grace, although they will sometimes stay put in one spot for what seems like a rather long time in retrospect, though it allows what could be a damning moment to perhaps be seen as an aberration.

Amalric's own performance as Julien is just as important a factor in keeping the audience guessing. He's jittery and nervous in all the places where it's called for - and in some places where it's not, making one wonder just what else he's got on his mind - but it's the moments when he's acting calm that things get a bit more interesting: He's never got the distant look that signals the audience that something is off, but there's always the sense that maybe an innocent man shouldn't be quite so agreeable. His two co-stars impress, as well: Lea Drucker (whom I really should have remembered from the Oscar-nominated short "Just Before Losing Everything", because she was a big part of why that was fantastic) never says a word on the subject but always has the expression and body language of someone who knows that there's an external threat to her marriage, making Delpine quite sympathetic but not too passive. Stéphanie Cléau, on the other hand, co-wrote the film with Amalric, and I wonder if that played into how Esther's aggressiveness comes off; there's a chance for her to play it as full-on nutty but instead she plays the part as big and assured enough that it's easy for someone not privy to Julien's point of view to see her as either plain-spoken or... well, not.

There's no point in "The Blue Room" where things are terribly comfortable - Amalric and cinematographer Christophe Ceaucarne shoot it in the narrow analog-TV ratio and wrap things up in a quick seventy-six minutes. Seventy-six good minutes that don't need much added to them at all, even if they don't include all the standard mystery-story parts one might expect.

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originally posted: 10/24/14 06:08:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Cannes Film Festival For more in the 2014 Cannes Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival series, click here.

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  03-Oct-2014 (R)


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