Mathieu Amalric's talent is not an unknown quantity to American filmgoers. He won the César for his role as Jean-Dominique Bauby, who after a severe stroke, woke up speechless, and could only communicate with one eye, in Julien Schnabel's Le scaphandre et le papillon (Bell Jar and the Butterfly). For non-art-film buffs he may be better remembered as the villain Dominic Green in Marc Foster's James Bond Quantum of Solace.
Now, he is appearing in his and his life partner Stephanie Cléau's adaptation of Georges Simenon's La chamber blue (Blue Room), alas, playing unfortunately for a week in New York. Almaric also directed it, with a Spartan and sure hand of a seasoned director, although he's a novice in directing.
Simenon's is a crime story, but, for Almaric, in an interview with Metro US, sees it as a "fragmented memory piece." For him, "it's one of the rare novels, maybe the only one, where Simenon has no linear storytelling," thereby allowing him artistic license in writing the script.
Running 75 minutes, La chamber blue is a fast paced narrative, shot in 20 days, with Almaric's effective use of flashbacks, as an tempt to retrieve involuntary memory.
La chamber blue's a hotel room in which Julien (Almaric) and his mistress Esther (Cléau) meet every Thursday, to make love.
It is a steamy affair sustained by Esther's strong sexual desire for Julien and Julien's ambivalent powerful drive for her.
We are not in a romance as is the wont of the standard, ordinary, and, at times, dreadful Hollywood romances. La chamber blue is a film about passion, a passion so overwhelming that Esther black widow like is willing to go to any length to snare her lover in a trap that has no escape.
Almaric and Cléau have captured Simenon's all-encompassing liking for sex. The opening scene staggers our eyes for it a shot of Esther's opening and closing of her legs, fully exposing her vagina. Shocking but brilliant, the shot brings to mind Corbet's famous painting Origin of the world, the image of which Almaric uses as source of obsession and lure that Esther has for Julien,. Love in Thursday afternoon captures the claustrophobic, solipsistic hothouse adventure that can only end in tragedy, but, to Esther's mind a satisfying conclusion for her compulsive desire and designs to have Julien for herself.
Christophe Beaucarne's skillfully cuts in and out of the film's narrative with incomplete portions of what is happening on the screen until the outcome of the story line in The Blue Room, as the dialog skips from the bed to questioning by le juge d'instruction—the magistrate in France responsible for conducting the investigative hearing that precedes a criminal trial.
As the clues are collected, we see the effect of Esther's obsession has on Julien, his marriage to Delphine (Léa Drucker), as well as the workings of the French judicial system. Not only that, but in spite of the disjointedness of the story, the narrative, in substance, is a good example of Gallic classicism. Julien is caught in the weave of Esther's passion that results in the murder of her husband and of Delphine. Like a rat in a maze, naïve victim that he is, under the questioning of the examining magistrate Diem (Laurent Poitrenaux), he is at sixes and sevens on how to respond as his dossier grows thicker and thicker with "proof of his guilt." As the Sieur des Grieux in Abbé Prévot's Manon Lescaut explains "my evil star already in the ascendant drawing me to my ruin—did not allow me to hesitate one moment," neither could Julien escape no matter how he tried from Esther's fatal attraction for him, and from the enticement of the blue room's bed. In the end, he is a beaten man, albeit it innocent of murder, but in the eyes of the court and evidence forever guilty. He and Esther are tried together. Each is found guilty as charged, and each is sentenced to life imprisonment. And in that finality of the rest of her life in perpetual seclusion, Esther triumphant, her eyes brighten as she smugly smiles, saying to her hapless lover that although separated by prison walls, he forever will be hers to share with no one. In the closing shots, as the spectators leave the courtroom, as the camera lens widens we see, irony or ironies, that what in the beginning was a blue room of lust and passion, in the end, it with its blue walls has turned into a blue room of justice. The acting is top of the form. The script compelling and intelligent in the way it adapted Simenon's sparse prose to the big screen, as well in the way it conveys his malaise and the atmosphere he created suggesting excessive emotions. For any student with at least two years of French, Simenon's prose is straightforward and standard enough for you to understand without looking at subtitles. It is a pity that a first-rate film like Le chamber bleue will play only in art houses, so, alas, is the statement on American public's taste for, and interest in, well-made foreign language films.