One of François Truffaut's least-remembered and least-known works, La Chambre verte was an intensely personal project, inspired by Henry James stories, that the director went ahead with knowing full well it would confound critics and audiences alike. It's a measure of Mr. Truffaut's awareness that this heightened, hyper-romantic requiem was an acquired taste that the film was indeed a flop upon release and remains pretty much a confidential, for-fans-only proposal. Set in the late 1920s, it follows widowed provincial journalist Julien Davenne's morbid, unhealthy obsession with the dead people in his life, brought on by his traumatising experiences in World War I in tandem with the sudden death of his wife a few months after their wedding.

      That Davenne is played by the director himself is appropriate, as the journalist wants to keep a tight leash on the world around him, holding out against all odds in the name of the dead who can no longer speak, becoming a fundamentalist keeper of the memory who does not take lightly to any deviation of the rigid moral framework he has set for himself. A man so driven to distraction by death and misery to the point he becomes devoted to memory, even when flirting tentatively with the charming auctioneer's secretary Cécilia (Nathalie Baye), Davenne can't help but try to bring her into his world where the dead cannot and should not be forgotten, but where Cécilia's desire to go on living has no place.

     Tenderly photographed in nocturnal, drooping shades by the great Nestor Almendros, moving with the halting, abrupt cuts that Mr. Truffaut was prone to, La Chambre verte develops inexorably into a grandiose tale of unrequited amour fou, underlined by the lush, dramatic score assembled from unused material from the late composer Maurice Jaubert and the quasi-operatic scope and scale of this strange tale. A ghost story in everything but name, though by no means even a traditional horror movie, it's certainly a disturbingly haunted movie, but one borne out of the desire to honour and remember - which makes its setting between the two great World Wars that for many people destroyed Western civilization as it was known even more disquieting.

François Truffaut, Nathalie Baye; Jean Dasté, Jean-Pierre Moulin, Antoine Vitez.
     Director, Mr. Truffaut; screenplay, Mr. Truffaut, Jean Gruault, inspired by the short stories by Henry James The Altar of the Dead and The Beast in the Jungle; cinematography, Nestor Almendros (colour by Eastmancolor); music, Maurice Jaubert; production designer, Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko; costume designers, Monique Dury, Christian Gasc; editor, Martine Barraqué; production, Les Films du Carrosse, Les Productions Artistes Associés, France, 1978, 94 minutes.
     Screened: Cinemateca Portuguesa - Dr. Félix Ribeiro Theatre, Lisbon, February 4th 2012. 


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