Blue is definitely not the warmest colour in Mathieu Amalric's fourth theatrical feature as a director. Quite the opposite: it's a cold, insidious, ominous hue that, from the hotel room where everything begins to the courtroom where it all ends, chills Julien Gahyde's life to the bone, chews him up then spits him out into darkness and suffering. All this provincial French maroon did was simply to let himself be seduced by the hypnotising Esther (Stéphanie Cléau), his (now unhappily) married old schoolmate he lusted after in his teens but that only now finally answers to his desires, with deadly results.
It's film noir, yes, after a fashion, but then again not really; rather, it's Mr. Amalric, probably the finest French actor at work nowadays, exploring the mystery that lies between men and women, the chasm that separates their world views, deployed in a different, less welcoming way that in the previous On Tour (a much more generous movie, but one where his leading character was also struggling, lost in a world seemingly made for women). Here, Julien, played with a sort of shocked disbelief by the director himself, is literally manipulated, buffeted back and forth by the women around him and by the ever greying, windy, wintry weather, without even being aware of (or realising only too late) the equivocal web of deceit being woven around him.
Woven by whom? That's Mr. Amalric's trick, by using a non-linear, fragmented narration that moves back and forth in time, each new jump revealing a little more of the puzzle in a judiciously planned and highly economical fashion, without wasting a single moment (The Blue Room comes in at a sharp, B-movie-like 75 minutes.) In so doing, the actor/director maintains a strong connection to the source material by celebrated mystery writer Georges Simenon, keeping true to his miniatural, observational style of letting an accumulation of small, apparently minor details slowly build the tale like a foundation inexorably constructed from the bottom up. That also means, however, the film becomes somewhat too clinical and deliberate.
Unlike, say, David Fincher's much discussed Gone Girl, where the cynicism and disenchantment are at the heart of the plot and perfectly mirrored in the handling, here Mr. Amalric gives us a baffled, cerebral tale anchored in a passive hero that seems only too happy allow himself to be boxed in by fate (not surprisingly, DP Christophe Beaucarne frames it in the old "boxy" Academy ratio); its story of the flaws and faults of provincial bourgeoisie would have been straight up Claude Chabrol's alley, but lacks the gleefully savage satirical twist the late director would have given it. Aiming at the doomed romanticism of traditional noir but never really reaching it, The Blue Room is still a smart, thoughtful film, though not entirely successful.
LA CHAMBRE BLEUE
Cast Mathieu Amalric, Léa Drucker, Stéphanie Cléau, Laurent Poitrenaux, Serge Bozon, Blutch
Director Mr. Amalric; screenwriters Ms. Cléau and Mr. Amalric; based on the novel The Blue Room by Georges Simenon; cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne (colour); composer Grégoire Hetzel; designer Christophe Offret; costumes Dorothée Guiraud; editor François Gédigier; producer Paulo Branco; production companies Alfama Films Production, Film(s) and ARTE France Cinéma
Screened October 7th 2014, Medeia Monumental 2 (distributor press screening)