Triple threat actor, writer, director Mathieu Amalric explores infidelity, obsession and a tragic desire that turns from lust into violence in his latest film, The Blue Room. While the star gives a worthy performance, the story is slight and adds little to the secret-affair-turns-nasty set of films that could already almost be considered a sub-genre.
Starting in a hotel room where lovers Julien and Esther are having a lusty, erotic and passionate affair behind the backs of their respective partners, The Blue Room then skips in its chronology between the romance and its repercussions that see Amalric’s Julien questioned in custody and standing trial for a crime that remains a mystery for much of the running time. Julien has a wife and daughter at home while Esther has a sick husband in her own life but both are more interested in their frequent forays into the blue room for lovemaking so intense it even involves biting that draws blood.
With the sex at the centre of the story, Amalric also flashes back to the beginning of the relationship and forward to the aftermath. At the same time as having his affair, Julien goes about his daily life being an average husband and father; spending time with his wife Delphine and taking his daughter for a trip to the beach before his life comes crashing down around him with the beginning of the criminal investigation. While Esther is clearly in love with Julien, it appears that the family man is less inclined to make a commitment to his secret lover and inevitably this imbalance has consequences.
Adapted from the 1964 novel by Georges Simenon, The Blue Room has a contemporary setting but does not say much that is new about crimes of passion that has already been said many times over since the novel was first published. Though there are some beautiful touches and particularly the scenes that take place in the titular blue room are lovingly filmed by director of photography Christophe Beaucarne in the noticeably cramped Academy ratio, The Blue Room fails to excite. Amalric drip feeds details as to what has happened but there is never any real surprise and the stereotypical female roles come across as obvious and stale.
The cast are bold and engaging, particularly Stephanie Cleau and Mathieu Amalric as the exposed central pair but it is a film of muted emotions and the stars get little chance to dazzle. Even worse off is Lea Drucker who is lumped with a thankless housewife role that is almost ignored when her story could potentially be the more interesting. While some shots and compositions are stunning, it is not enough to elevate the narrative that lacks in pace and offers very little in the way of twists and turns.
Screening at Cannes 2014 in the Un Certain Regard category, The Blue Room is bound to have its admirers. Unfolding at an extremely leisurely pace, it still manages to feel long and over stretched at just 76 minutes. There is no doubt that Amalric’s film has artistic merit and is impeccably crafted in an aesthetic sense but the portrait of a man undone by lust fails in offering much that is original.
See The Blue Room if you love the work of Amalric as an actor but don’t be surprised if you get the sense of having seen this dangerous affair narrative being done better before.
About the Author
Pete Turner is a Senior Reporter