The Blue Room
2014, R, 76 min. Directed by Mathieu Amalric. Starring Mathieu Amalric, Léa Drucker, Stéphanie Cléau, Blutch, Laurent Poitrenaux, Serge Bozon, Mona Jaffart, Véronique Alain.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 24, 2014
It’s one of the great pleasures of moviegoing to watch Mathieu Amalric’s face crumble. It’s like watching a time-lapse montage of Mount Rushmore’s Abraham Lincoln erode over millennia. Amalric is blessed with the French version of the 16th president’s melancholic countenance, or, if you want to get all Francophile about it, he resembles a marginally less deceased Serge Gainsbourg, trimmer than the chanteur at his peak but no less mischievous or given to romantic folly.
Most mainstream moviegoers in America will recall Amalric primarily as the James Bond villain Dominic Greene in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, but the actor (who also directs here) has been visible outside of the local cineplex in heady dramas like 2004’s Kings & Queen and, more recently, Wes Anderson’s sublime grotesque The Grand Budapest Hotel. For this, his feature debut behind the lens, Amalric has adapted (co-scripting with his partner and co-star Cléau) one of Gallic crime novelist Georges Simenon’s slimmer volumes into a fittingly tight and extremely entertaining movie. There’s more than a hint of both Alain Resnais’ subjectively labyrinthine plotting and Claude Chabrol’s Hitchcockian portraits of the dark underbelly of small-town life, but The Blue Room is at its duplicitous heart a vivid, chronologically complex depiction of l’amour fou gone terribly wrong.
Amalric plays Julien Gahyde, a successful businessman with a lovely wife (Drucker) and children. But the film begins with him entangled in the arms of his lover Esther (Cléau); there’s blood, too, and from thereon nothing is entirely what it seems to be, or even what Julien believes it to be. The character’s double life is matched by the double meaning of the film’s title, which I won’t spoil here, as his comings and goings and lies and diversions become increasingly frantic. The less you know about the patchwork storyline of Amalric’s assured, increasingly nightmarish film going in, the better. Sometimes being baffled is a good thing. This is one of the finest performances by one of cinema’s finest actors (and now director). The Blue Room is mesmerizing, psychologically complex, and, at the very end, viscerally devastating. They don’t make them like this much anymore, but they should.