The Blue Room
Despite great performances, Mathieu Amalric's adaptation of Georges Simenon's Sixties novella lacks passion and depth
Georges Simenon's spare, unsentimental 1964 novella The Blue Room brings an icy detachment to chronicling the consequences of white hot passion, with echoes of James M Cain, affinities with Chabrol and intimations of Fatal Attraction. Mathieu Amalric's lean screen version captures elements of the book's tension and irony but feels too insubstantial to really do justice to the moral complexities of Simenon's world.
In the small French village of Saint-Justin, married family man Julien (Almaric) and pharmacist's wife Esther (Stéphanie Cléau) meet every Thursday in a hotel room. The rest of the world disappears as they became tangled in each other's bodies. 'If I were suddenly free, could you free yourself too?,' asks Esther. When the narrative then flashes forward to a police investigation in which Julien is a prime suspect in an unspecified crime, you are left to ponder the deceptively casual nature of the question and just how seriously either of them may have taken it.
Amalric successfully sustains an air of mystery as the film's fractured storyline jumbles the past and present, and the investigation develops into a courtroom drama. The film's cramped look and bold colour scheme lend it the air of something made in the 1960s, although it is set in the present. The cast are well chosen, with Cleau a steely femme fatale and Amalric conveying the desperation of a dumbfounded Julien as he succumbs to his fate like a man caught in a trap from which there is no escape.
What the film never quite conveys is the all-consuming intensity of the affair, and the second half feels especially rushed as if Amalric just wants to be done with the whole business. Elegantly crafted but disappointingly sketchy, The Blue Room might well send viewers in search of a book that this particular version never quite captures or tames.
Limited release from Fri 9 Sept.