The Blue Room (Sundance Selects, NR)

blueroom 75The Blue Room is not afraid to cut the ordinary experience of life into fragments, leaving the viewer to put them back together.

 

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The Blue Room, adapted from a novel by Georges Simenon, is an icy, elegant murder mystery that’s longer on style than it is on conventional storytelling. That’s a good thing if you’re up for a well-crafted film that scorns the conventions of Hollywood movies, but not so good if your definition of a satisfying film is one that provides a linear path to a tidy conclusion and emotional catharsis.

By his own admission, Julien Gahyde (Mathieu Amalric, who also directed) has it all: a successful career, a beautiful home, and a lovely wife and daughter. He doesn’t mention also having a beautiful mistress, Esther (Stephanie Cléau), whom he meets sporadically for some illicit lovemaking of the variety that literally draws blood. The hotel room in which they meet has blue walls—hence the title—although the color will recur throughout the film.

The Blue Room is not afraid to go heavy on the symbolism, and not afraid to cut the ordinary experience of life into fragments, leaving the viewer to put them back together. As the director, Amalric loves to provide glimpses of scenes, often as static shots, with a soundtrack that clearly does not correspond with what you are seeing. At times you see a character’s memory of something; other times you are in the position of a voyeur; and frequently, you have to doubt whether what you are seeing is what really happened in this tidy, fictional world.

From a conventional, plot-driven point of view, two murders—of Julien’s wife and Esther’s husband—are the key events in The Blue Room, but Amalric the director treats them almost as an afterthought. We, and the police, know he and Esther (especially her, actually) had a motive to wish for the elimination of their spouses, but did they really do it? Or, more to the point, did they both do it? Answering that question, of course, is not really the point of the film.

Amalric’s character is both frustrating and fascinating. He never really seems to be present in his own life, and yet he’s the central character in whose fate we are supposed to be invested. We see much less of Esther, and she appears to be significantly less complex—everything about her screams “black widow,” including the fact that she is physically dominant over Amalric—but you can’t say she’s not interesting. Unfortunately, in a rare instance of Amalric the director putting a foot wrong, her scenes have emotionally charged music, while most of the film relies on ambient sounds.

Even if you become exasperated with the lack of traditional narrative pleasure provided by The Blue Room, there’s lots to enjoy in terms of visuals, from Julien’s picture-perfect, modernist house, to a sunny vacation in the beach town of Les Sables-d’Olonne on the Atlantic coast. There is plenty of color symbolism as well, not just in terms of the blue referenced in the title. Even the use of the Academy ratio (1.33:1) is employed for aesthetic reasons: It gives the film a cramped feeling appropriate to Julien’s sense of being trapped. | Sarah Boslaugh

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