Following on from his 2010 Best Director win for On Tour, Mathieu Amalric returns to the Cannes Film Festival with his latest directorial effort – a terse little nugget of a crime drama entitled The Blue Room (2014), competing in the Un Certain Regard strand. Based on the Georges Simenon novel, the film opens with Julien (Amalric, who stars as well as directs) in the middle of an intense adulterous affair with Esther (Stéphanie Cléau, who co-wrote the screenplay with Amalric). They interweave their tale, flashing backwards and forwards, as Julien is variously interviewed by a psychiatrist, a judge and the gendarmerie. We slowly piece together the nature of the crime as the events leading up to it unfold.
Julien has a young daughter and a wife, Delphine (Léa Drucker), with whom he has a tense rapport; she’s polite, but hides a simmering suspicion that something’s amiss. They live in one of those modernist houses with huge windows looking out onto empty countryside, which only exist for people to be murdered within. As Julien and Esther’s relationship moves from the casual to the intense to the frightening, Julien takes on the expression – with Amalric’s eyes his most prominent feature – of a man caught in the headlights of his competing desires, unable to get out of a situation. Visions of relative domestic happiness – a trip to the seaside, Christmas morning – are all overshadowed by Julien’s possibly murderous panic, the vaporous conspiracy and Gregoire Hetzel’s Hermann-like score.
With its 4:3 aspect ratio and a slight running time of a little over an hour, The Blue Room feels somewhat like an over-achieving episode of Tales of the Unexpected. It’s not that it isn’t cinematic – the visuals are consciously gorgeous. In addition, and as you’d expect from an actor-director of Amalric’s pedigree, the performances are brilliant throughout and Mathieu himself has a wonderful eye for the telling tick and/or the revealing gesture. So focused is the story that some audience members may even leave still in some doubt as to what actually just happened. The Blue Room is a pen portrait of an imperfect crime and its repercussions, a stylish thriller only limited by the paucity of its ambition. Whereas Hetzel’s score is full of symphonic richness, Amalric’s film is in fact a five-finger exercise in culpability, duplicity and death.
The 67th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May 2014. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.