Film Review: “The Blue Room” — “Gone Girl” — French Version
Is he a murderer? Is she? Who was the victim? His wife? The mistress? The Blue Room is Gone Girl French style, which means more sex, more art, and more enigma.
The Blue Room (La chambre bleue) directed by Mathieu Amalric. Screening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA, through October 23.
by Tim Jackson
Mathieu Amalric had made it clear that he wanted to direct films before he established a career as one of France’s top male stars. In The Blue Room he does triple service as actor, director, and co-writer in an ingenious French whodunit in which answering the puzzling question of who-did-what-to-whom plays out between a police interrogation room and an adulterous boudoir. It was co-scripted by and co-stars Amalric’s wife, Stéphanie Cléau, who plays the protagonist’s mistress, Esther. Amalric’s ferrety, diminutive presence is well suited for the role of Julien Gahyde, a man accused of a crime the details of which are kept frustratingly unclear. While the guy is in custody, the gendarmes listen to a stream of his confessions about letters, coy signals, and words passed between secret lovers. The details are played out in flashbacks. Both Cléau and Amalric approach their parts with cool reserve, while steaming it up gloriously in bed. Is he a murderer? Is she? Who was the victim? His wife? The mistress? This is Gone Girl French style, which means more sex, more art, and more enigma.
Based on a crime novel by the prolific Georges Simenon, the mystery story gives Amalric, as director, a chance to indulge in a self-conscious artsy style that, while occasionally melodramatic, serves up a feast of sensuous images. (Amalric may have taken a lesson from his experience acting in Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Take the opening shots: we see a well-appointed house, daylight streaming through its half-opened windows; we hear the sounds of lovemaking as the music rises. When the credits end we see an empty bed and a woman’s voice asks, ‘”Did I hurt you?” “No” is the reply – as a single drop of blood falls on a clean white sheet. There follows a a backlit image of a women’s shoulder beaded with sweat. Gahyde checks his lower lip (bitten bloody) in the mirror as the woman asks, “Your wife will find out?” “I don’t think so,” he replies. The naked woman closes her legs: “Would you spend the rest of you life with me?” He doesn’t answer.
These moments will be revisited under investigation and then with a police psychologist. Gahyde seems dazed by the determined questioning. Shots are placed off center. The film’s erotic charge never lets up: we return to the erotic scene again and again. Their lovemaking is caught in small details — there are close shots of skin, eyes, hands. Their rutting is accompanied by rain and thunder; a lush musical score swells in the background. Gahyde’s mistress, seen only in flashback, appears to be besotted by the affair. She is more than ready to abandon her husband. She is taller than Julien and sexually aggressive. He seems emotionally uncommitted yet trapped in this torrid tryst. (Asked why he cast his own wife as the protagonist’s lover in the film, Almaric replied jokingly “To get the hot back at home.”)
At home, Gahyde has a lovely wife and a child whom he adores. His wife Delphine (Léa Drucker) questions the blood on his lip, the time he spends away from the family, and his lack of affection. Amalric’s character teeter totters among contradictory reactions to the charges: he’s confused, devoted, and, on occasion, murderous. Did kill his mistress, his wife? Both? “I am not a madman,” he tells the police shrink. “Why question me seven times? Just because the press calls me a monster?”
That exchange reveals two important elements in the film’s narrative: this is a very public trial and Gahyde is questioning his sanity. The murder evidence and the alarms about his sanity are teasers. The protagonist’s suspicious eyes shift around the room, landing on random objects as his mind wanders to past moments. Amalric’s obstreperous flair as a director and assured calm as an actor generates an indelible vision of Gahyde’s quiet (and controlled?) madness. The plot begins to subtly twist near the end of The Blue Room. There’s a final courtroom deliberation. Viewers have already heard and seen a lot of the evidence; still, while major facts have come to light, much remains unstated and unresolved. An unsettling verdict invites audience members to argue the case as they leave the theater.
Tim Jackson is an assistant professor at the New England Institute of Art in the Digital Film and Video Department. His music career in Boston began in the 1970s and includes some 20 groups, many recordings, national and international tours, and contributions to film soundtracks. He studied theater and English as an undergraduate and has also has worked helter skelter as an actor and member of SAG and AFTRA since the 1980s. He has directed a trio of documentaries: Chaos and Order: Making American Theater about the American Repertory Theater, and Radical Jesters, which profiles the practices of 11 interventionist artists and agit-prop performance groups. His third documentary, When Things Go Wrong, about the Boston singer/songwriter Robin Lane, with whom he has worked for 30 years, has just been completed. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. You can read more of his work on his blog.