“La Chambre Bleue” (“The Blue Room” in the original French), the extremely-talented actor Mathieu Amalric’s directorial debut, screened on Friday. Based on a slim 1955 novel by police procedural author Georges Simenon, it relates, or rather reveals, its story in a tortuously piecemeal fashion. In the course of an interrogation, we are introduced to Julien (Amalric), his mistress (Stéphanie Cléau) and his wife (Léa Drucker).
What has transpired between them and the reasons for Julien’s interrogation gradually come into focus. Shot using the academy ratio of 1:33 (also used in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” in which Amalric had a small role), the film begins with a dreamy, elliptical depiction of the lovers’ affair in a room of a railway hotel (the blue room of the title) and seamlessly transitions into being a police procedural (or “policier” as the French call those).
We think we’re getting “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” when in fact there’s a courtroom drama lurking around the corner. Balancing these disparate elements is no mean feat and Amalric’s direction is surprisingly sure-footed.
This is a chamber piece, and the lead actors respect that with their fine, understated work (of the pack, Cléau gives the most complex and fleshed-out performance). Amalric, looking rather unflattering with shortly cropped hair and stubble, is often the picture of restraint, his large, dark eyes denoting ambivalence and pain.
Given the film’s many virtues, it’s a pity how slick everything looks here. Combined with rather glacial pacing, “The Room” is stifling, which admittedly might be the point. Against this stuffy backdrop the sex scenes are a welcome counterpoint to the film’s more antiseptic qualities: the snippets we see of the couple making love are tender, the sweat (and occasional blood) adding a sense of immediacy and passion (although there is an unintentionally hilarious shot of Amalric and Cléau making love standing against a French balcony during a storm).
Amalric should by all means continue working behind the camera but he should try to inject his films with pathos, and in doing will take a leaf from his frequent collaborator Arnaud Desplechin’s book.