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The Blue Room isn’t so much a whodunit as a whodunwhatnow? Directed by and starring the increasingly ubiquitous Mathieu Amalric, the film is an adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel and not all that dissimilar from Amalric’s 2013 collaboration with Roman Polanski, Venus in Fur. In both, the actor portrays a successful, sly man who is nonetheless easily played by a woman cunningly using her sexuality. Venus may have not have offered a satisfying “why” behind its shenanigans, but the result is right onscreen. The Blue Room, however, remains an enigma for both Amalric’s character and the audience.
Its insistence on remaining a puzzle wouldn’t be a problem if the end weren’t so anticlimactic. The Blue Room begins with blood (from a passionate bite) and culminates with a trial; in between, the timeline jumps between present and recent past so frequently that most scenes feel like mere clips. The story’s first situation to cover up is the affair between Julien (Amalric) and Esther (Amalric’s real-life partner—and, here, co-adapter—Stéphanie Cléau). Both are married, and they daringly rendezvous above the pharmacy owned by Esther’s wealthy but sickly husband whenever she shines the Fuck Signal, i.e. a red towel she hangs on her balcony.
We get a bit of their conversation from this opening scene, dialogue that will be uselessly repeated ad nauseum, unless the lull of the odd exchange is intended to be haunting. The synopsis from IFC, the film’s distributor, claims that Esther makes “a startling suggestion” at this point—dare you to find it among her questions about whether Julien loves her (hint: if you’re involved with a potentially crazy woman, don’t say “I think so” in response) and if he wouldn’t be afraid to spend the rest of his life with her.
The bulk of the film shows Julien being interrogated by a judge, either lying or blanking on the answers to most questions. (Yes, there’s a message about the often significant difference between memory, however recent, and reality, but the point isn’t sharp enough to make an impression.) We also see Julien with his wife (Léa Drucker) and their daughter (Mona Jaffart), clearly living comfortably in a stunning home. Yet when someone gets angry while listing all the things that are perfect in his life, well, obviously it’s not exactly true.
The gist? People die, offscreen. How they died, uncertain. There’s not the slightest lead-in, other than the scenes of Julien in handcuffs that are introduced very early on. But even the questioning is elliptical and seemingly pointless. (“What charmed you about her?” Really? Is that considered hard-boiled interrogation in French Investigator School?) Esther also sends Julien curious postcards, but because this narrative isn’t linear, we don’t know when they arrive or what happened in between them. Hell, even Julien doesn’t seem to know what happened.
Amalric spends most of the film either moony- or bug-eyed, and occasionally his character’s behavior is as head-scratching as the barely there plot itself. Yet he’s a sleek, stylish helmer, attending to details like the drops of red throughout the otherwise muted cinematography and the film’s boxy 1.37:1 aspect ratio, a choice that lends a claustrophobic, prison-cell effect even if it’s not consciously noticed by viewers.
Amalric’s worst decision—yes, even more maddening than the elusive story—is the sweepingly romantic score that accompanies scenes like that of Julien and Esther’s first kiss. It’s so over-the-top, you wonder whether it’s parodic. Alas, it’s not. The Blue Room, however, is sure to find its audience—most likely filmgoers who are in the mood for a thriller about a potentially unbalanced woman and a potentially murderous man, yet will lose their minds if they hear the words “gone girl” one more goddamn time.
The Blue Room is now playing at West End Cinema.