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DVD Review: ‘Mademoiselle Chambon’

★★★☆☆
Winner of Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2010 César Awards, Stéphane Brizé’s 2009 film Mademoiselle Chambon is – quite literally – a very French affair, as we follow the blossoming forbidden romance between married manual labourer Jean (Vincent Lindon) and his son’s elegant school teacher Véronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain).

Echoing David Lean’s 1945 bittersweet classic Brief Encounter (1945), Brizé’s romantic drama gently develops his love story, cautious against allowing Mademoiselle Chambon to drift into melodramatic uniformity. Jean is a loving husband and a devoted father, yet he is just as taken a-back as the audience when he finds himself embracing high school teacher Véronique, after kindly agreeing to replace a faulty window.

The two are ultimately brought together by their mutual appreciation for Franz von Vescey’s Valse Triste, which Ms. Chambon plays effortlessly on the violin. It’s a touching moment, galvanising Véronique with a magnificent, hidden talent and Jean with a new found air of sensitivity beneath his everyman exterior.

The central performances from Lindon and Kiberlain are strikingly good, with both individuals subtly underplaying the potential melodrama of their predicament with the occasional nuanced glance of longing or semi-restrained half-smile.

However, despite fine work from both lead actors, there isn’t a great deal that is new about Mademoiselle Chambon. The film’s final scene at a train station only narrowly avoids descending into complete cliche thanks to the absence of atmospheric, shrouding steam (an antiquated bi-product as far as modern rail travel is concerned), and Jean’s final decision – does he stay or does he go – does seem to lack crucial emotional impact at a point when the film’s narrative requires it most.

Mademoiselle Chambon remains a quiet, moving presentation of the blind naivety inherent within infidelity – albeit a mostly unremarkable one.

Daniel Green