Film Review: The Blue Room

Tightlipped French Crime Drama Drops Few Clues

Devin D. O'Leary
4 min read
The Blue Room
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Well-known French actor Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace, The Grand Budapest Hotel) flexes his cinematic muscles, writing, directing and starring in the mystery-driven, eros-tinged crime drama The Blue Room. Based on the 1964 novel by Belgian mystery master Georges Simenon, the film is a terse little exercise in atmosphere, tension and actors playing things very close to the vest.

The story begins
in medias res—that is to say, in the thick of it. Julien Gahyde (Amalric) is being questioned by the police. What for, we’re not sure. But a string of flashbacks tells of his affair with a rather single-minded mistress. Gahyde is a family man as well as a businessman in small-town rural France. Evidently discontented with his job selling farm implements as well as his marriage to Delphine (Léa Drucker, The Man of My Life), Julien’s life is ripe for a change. He finds it when he bumps into long-ago high school crush Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau, Park Benches). Esther is married to a well-to-do local pharmacist but appears to be as restless as Julien. About once a month, the two lovers meet up in the titular hotel room for some unlawful carnal knowledge.

Judging from Julien’s current position, things obviously didn’t turn out so well. As he speaks to a string of police, lawyers, psychiatrists and judges, the story slowly trickles out. Julien seems disarmingly honest, willing to talk about nearly anything with authorities. Is he hiding something, or is he really an open book? Amalric’s wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights persona gives nothing away. At one point our protagonist notes that the local press are calling him “a monster.” Why? What the heck happened between Julien and Esther?
The Blue Room certainly scores points for intrigue. Before we even know what crime has been committed, the tension is built. It’s an interesting cart-before-the-horse approach.

There are points, though, at which the film’s narrative vagueness fails to serve. Occasionally, the dialogue gets a bit too philosophical for use in the real world. For all the police questioning, nobody seems to be in much of a hurry to get to the heart of the matter. Do police detectives really ask questions like, “The other woman brought you the fullness of physical love?” I doubt it. Even in France.

Eventually, of course, we find out just what horrible thing happened as a result of Julien and Esther’s adulterous affair—at which point, unfortunately, a lot of the film’s tension has already been expended. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call
The Blue Room a thriller. Instead, the film plays out on a long, slow fuse. Despite the narrative’s intentionally slow burn, however, it’s a surprisingly brief outing—clocking in at a mere 75 minutes. If you’re eager to have the mystery resolved, you won’t have to wait long. The film’s fat-free, stripped-to-the-bone quality extends to the cinematography, which unspools like an almost rapid-fire series of still photographs.

Amalric has a meticulous eye for detail, no doubt about it. He knows how to milk tiny, telling details from the actors’ performances. Still, the film is a bit too reserved for its own good. It’s icy all right, but it never works up the level of shocking sangfroid Simenon’s tale is begging for. The pokerfaced ending, though it closes the door on the story (literally), could leave some audience members frustrated. Analyze the slim clues provided, pore over the subtle performances, discuss with friends over coffee and you could reach your own damning conclusions about this criminal tale. Or—much like the authorities on display—you could simply lament the lack of concrete answers.
The Blue Room


The Blue Room


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