Friday, October 3, 2014

Mathieu Amalric tries his hand at Georges Simenon in a cold 'n clammy THE BLUE ROOM

I'm only luke-warm to THE BLUE ROOM, which surprises me, considering how much I've enjoyed the work of Mathieu Amalric, especially as an actor (he both stars in and directs this movie) and also as a filmmaker (Le Stad de Wimbledon, The Screen Illusion). Not having read the novel by Georges Simenon on which the film is based, I'm going only via what I viewed on screen. This is, pretty much, a nicely formal, old-fashioned (right down to the size of the screen: 1.33:1), traditional (despite the nudity, including some full-frontal from both sexes), psychological murder-mystery non-thriller (Amalric appears to have deliberately drained away any possibilities of actual suspense, chills or thrills).

This last assessment is not necessarily a negative, for the director/actor (shown at right) seems intent on putting character (within the framework of the society at large) ahead of all the standard stuff we seem to want from our mysteries. But what we get from our characters, every last one of them, is gloomy and morose. These people are about as glum as characters come. Granted Amalric/Simenon may be indicting a society or class. But, really: If anything remotely pleasant happens here, you can be sure it will soon come back to bite you and the character in the ass.

The story is simplicity itself: a married man (Amalric, above, right) has an affair with a married woman (Stéphanie Cléau, above, left), which neither cuckolded spouse (Léa Drucker, below, plays the wronged wife) seems to know about (though both may suspect). Death, maybe murder, ensues, and the illusion of justice must be served -- even if justice itself may or may not have been done.

For all the attention to character on display, in the end we don't really learn that much about anyone -- except that these are very unhappy people. Style-wise, the movie is mostly a pleasure to view. Color (or often the lack of it) plays its part; both interior and exterior shots are well composed and lighted (cinematography, by Christophe Beaucarne, is top-notch); and the performances are all that the adaptation (by Amalric and Ms Cléau) allows.

Amalric and Cléau prove darkly passionate lovers (with love scenes,above and below, to match) in a relationship that seems to hark back more to school days than present-day, while the wonderful Ms Drucker (so fabulous in the under-seen The Man of My Life) does what she can with a role that's not allowed to budge.

Although the movie runs only 75 minutes, it seems rather longer, due to the low-key, unchanging, enervating atmosphere it conjures. Don't get me wrong: Amalric proves an extremely economical filmmaker in many ways, so this is an accomplishment of sorts. And some will find the movie exactly to their taste, I suspect. But what passes for subtlety in certain circles can look pretty heavy-handed to others of us.

The Blue Room, from Sundance Selects via IFC Films, opens theatrically today, Friday, October 3 -- for Yom Kippur! -- in New York City at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. (The following Friday, October 10, it will open at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5.)

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