A French Crime Drama Without the Drama

Director: MATHIEU AMALRIC/2014

Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace, Grand Budapest Hotel) and Stéphanie Cléau co-write and star in the French film La Chambre Bleue, or The Blue Room, which is an adaptation of Georges Simenon’s 1964 novel of the same name.  Mathieu plays Julian Gahyde, a man involved in a steamy affair with Esther Despiere (Cléau).  Both are married, but have a friendship history that predates their respective spouses.

They meet regularly in a hotel called “the blue room”.  It is an appropriate name as the room is decorated with blue paint that merges in with other blue decor.  It seems that blue, ala “the blues”, is apropos to the mood of the film which drips with melancholy and a lack of passion of anything real save the sex these two are having on the sly.

We are given indications that this relationship is not what it seems.  Why Esther speaks of love and a future together, we see that her “love” is rooted in violence. From the blood she draws when biting Julian, to the creepy letters she begins writing him when he stops heeding her calls with a signal from a red towel.  Like the Police song “Roxanne“, the towel is much like the red light put out by prostitutes, only here it is so Esther can lure in her prey.  Esther and Julian’s passion has about as much emotion as a prostitute does with a client. Love is not a part of such a relationship.

Much of the story is told through the use of flashbacks as we are forced to piece together how this affair plays into a crime being investigated.  Both Esther and Julian are in handcuffs and appear before a magistrate who is conducting an inquisition of their relationship.  Clearly something has happened that looks to ruin any ambition they might have had to be together.

The problem is that through the reveal of what took place, we never really attach to any of the characters in the film.  Julian’s wife, Delphine (Léa Drucker) is simply quiet the entire film.  She has lines, of course, but we never sense anything to her character.  Does she know about her husband’s lover? Does she love her husband? Who knows…..she literally gives us no insight.  She is just dull.  All the time.  Just like her husband.  Just like her husbands lover.

Even the things she does around the house are mundane and emotionless.  The only real emotion she shows is when she finds out their pharmacist, Esther’s husband, has been found dead.  The only reaction that comes from this news is her dropping a casserole dish.  Was it because she knew about her husband and the pharmacist’s wife and therefore was upset because it meant that she was free to be with her husband now?  We’ll never know.

The plot unfolds like many crime procedurals on television.  The French legal system is seen, but nothing about it is remotely interesting, nor does it build the tension of the plot into a basic “who done it”.   It is just simply answering questions in the magistrates chambers.  The defense lawyer puts up no defense.  Maybe, like the film, there is no way to defend his client’s actions.

Everyone in this film is so passionless (save one headlock being thrown on one character while speaking with the judge), that it can’t help but rub off on the audience.  Despite having a short 1 hour and 15 minute run time, I felt that this film was still too long. I’m feeling ‘blue’ just writing about it!

The film is effective in its use of color, acting as a palate to the darker themes of the movie.  Sadly, this positive isn’t enough to save what is wrong. Even in the courtroom where they are discussing the crimee committed, the camera slowly zooms in to give us a picture of the color of the walls.  The walls are….you guessed it……blue.  They also have pictures of a fly all over the wall signifying to me that maybe this whole movie wasn’t meant to be figured out, explained, or even to serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when you cheat on your spouse.  Rather I get the feeling that I was merely the fly on the blue wall who after watching how the events unfolded, realized that it didn’t really matter anyway.