The Blue Room, Simenon, and non-linear narrative.
4:3 is the algebra of Georges Simenon’s terse psychological thriller The Blue Room: four individuals, three couples, two of which are married. 4:3 also happens to be the aspect ratio in which the film was shot. In a small French town, the redundant pair, illicit lovers, meet secretly in the titular blue room of Hotel des Voyageurs overlooking a public square; a passionate affair on the wane morphs into crime the way at high temperatures metal liquefies.
Written and directed by Mathieu Amalric and cowritten with his real-life partner Stéphanie Cléau, this adaptation hews closely to the unusual (for Simenon) non-linear structure of the 140-page novella. Both Amalric and Cléau—in her first major role—star in the film as the defiant lovers: Julien Gahyde, a tractor salesman, and Esther Despierre, a pharmacist—incidentally, very fitting professions for the story. The narrative intercuts the present reality of a magistrate’s criminal interrogation of Julien with Julien’s reminiscences: obsessive memories of love-making and haunting snatches of dialogue that give the film a chamber music quality. In a feat of aesthetic economy, the interrogatory format enables the story to unfold as the facts of the case—a double spousal murder—are unravelled through the minutiae of the legal discovery process.
No spoilers, but in a proactive twist on the femme fatale, Esther’s desire to be with Julien forever is satisfied, though not quite in the way she had envisioned.
A note in defense of small films: Compact at 74 minutes, the film’s Director of Photography Christophe Beaucarne uses the old Academy 4:3 format to box in and highlight visual details. Enhanced by Grégoire Hetzel’s chilling score and François Gédigier’s editing, The Blue Room evokes character and atmosphere better, and creates more mystery and tension than another current 20th Century Fox Oscar-contender, the 150-minute Gone Girl, which also plays with tropes of adultery and crime.
A high-profile, versatile actor (Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum Solace, Arnaud Despléchin’s A Christmas Tale and Kings and Queen), this is Amalric’s fourth feature as a director. His stylistically very different previous film On Tour (2010), in which a group of contemporary American “new burlesque” dancers are taken on tour in France, won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010.
I spoke with the enigmatic Amalric in French following the US premiere of The Blue Room at the 52nd New York Film Festival.
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