Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"The Blue Room": A stylish French mystery that reverses the "omniscient observer" role

The Blue Room” (“La chambre bleue”), by Mathieu Amalric, purports to be a spoof of 1940’s mystery film making.  Shot in dogme and the old “1.33:1” aspect ratio, but garish in boudoir colors, and with a film noir music score Gregoire Hetzel (with melodramatic use of a Bach-Busoni Chaconne on the piano) it seems a bit manipulative and fluffy, if brief at 76 minutes.
Julien Gahyde (Amalric himself) and Esther Despierre (Stephanie Cleau) carry on a passionate love affair in a “blue room” in a resort near the coast.  But that is a flashback, as both are in the French courts system, being interrogated and going to trial.  The movie plays a trick in not telling the viewer what they’re in trouble over at first, a rather inverted reverse of the (literary agent's) omniscient observer problem, where the reader or viewer often knows things the protagonist characters don’t (because in much fiction, one character has to “discover” what another lead character knows, as in my own novel).  That is, here, the characters know more than the viewer; usually, the viewer knows more than any one character.  
It becomes pretty obvious, though.  Each of the couple’s legal spouses have shown up dead.  That’s the trouble.  We get a graphic description of how Nicolas died of digitalis poisoning.  Are the couple in cahoots, or did Julien fall for a “femme fatale” and is he going to go down for what he didn’t do? So perhaps on my comment on "observation": maybe Julien doesn't know as much as he should. But he's the storyteller, right?  
The official site is here (IFC and Sundance Selects).  I saw the film at the West End in Washington before a surprising weekday crowd, in the smallest auditorium.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Lourdes, which I visited in 2001. 

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