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REVIEW: The Blue Room

10 September 2016 Stephanie Brandhuber

Mathieu Almaric, best known for his roles as an actor in films such as Quantum of Solace, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, has taken the director’s seat this time for what is quite possibly the most French movie possible. The Blue Room is complicated, it’s enigmatic, there’s sex, food, violence, and shameless nudity. Très français, non?

Almaric plays Julien, a successful salesman who takes the local pharmacist Esther (Stephanie Cleau) as his mistress. They’ve known each other since school, but it’s only as married adults that they decide to begin an adulterous affair. One afternoon, as Julien and Esther lie naked and tangled in each other’s arms, Esther asks her lover, “Do you love me?” He says he does, and they begin to plan an impossible future together. Soon, however, their illicit meetings are the talk of the town and Julien realises that his wife Delphine (Lea Drucker) will have surely heard the gossip. He decides to put a hold on his meetings with Esther, but the drama continues.
 
Prison bars, a judge, handcuffs, and gendarmes. We’re fed disjointed shots that suggest a much darker outcome of an affair than just a scorned wife. We soon learn that Esther’s husband has suddenly died, and all at once Julien becomes a prime suspect. His mistress’ love letters are provided as evidence of a murderous plot between the two lovers and as the film unravels, we’re left wondering, “what happened?” as much as we’re wondering, “who did it?”  
 
The premise is simple, the execution - not so much.  Almaric’s film is a coiled, elliptical, jigsaw that teases the audience through a disordered chronology of events in this tale of adultery and (possible) murder. We’re introduced to the two main protagonists as they writhe, naked, in a blue-walled hotel room. A half open window, a door, a naked torso, the love affair between Julien and Esther is presented to us at first though disconnected images, as more of an abstraction than a reality. We’re shown details, not given information, essentially trapping us in the film before we even know what the story involves. At the same time, Gregoire Hetzel’s surging string score pounds a feeling of paranoia into us.
 
Just like the coldness and evasiveness Julien assumes when he is brought in front of the police to be questioned, the film itself is only willing to divulge so much to us, evading our need to judge and logicise. We only see what the film wants us to see, and as Julien’s world begins to close in on him, the film’s tight, square aspect ratio makes us feel all the more claustrophobic as we struggle to decide who and what to believe.
 
The Blue Room manages to sustain its entertaining momentum, up until the point when the initial mystery and enigmatic suspense turns into confusion and a too-hastily tied up plot ending. At just 76 minutes long, Almaric’s film is one of the shortest feature films to be released this year. As such, the film attempts to resolve its various different threads at a jarring rate that seems counter-intuitive to the film’s initial slow teasing-out of events. Near the end of the second third of the film, the flashbacks begin to add up. But instead of providing a sense of satisfying fulfilment, the film simply falls into conventionally noir territory, ultimately giving us the impression that Almaric got bored of his own slow-burn strategy.
 
Despite its rushed conclusion, however, The Blue Room is an entertaining enough watch. It’s tense, it’s intriguing, and it’s sexy in that way that only French film can pull off with such nonchalance. If you’re in need of a tease, this film’s for you.

3/5 stars.

The Blue Room's UK release date is the 9th September 2016. Watch the trailer below:
 
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