Film Review - Mademoiselle Chambon

A film by Stéphane Brizé

France 2009. 101’

In Cinemas now

Mademoiselle Chambon is one of those films that the French do best. A slow burn of a story focussing on suppressed desires and an erotic obsession.

Jean (Vincent Lindon) works in construction. He is happily married to Anne Marie (Aure Atika). One day, as he is picking up his young son from school, he meets Mademoiselle Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain), his son’s teacher. When Melle Chambon invites Jean to speak about his work at the school, his account of building a house might as well be a description of an enduring marriage. Later, Melle Chambon asks him to replace a broken window in her apartment and he finds himself strangely drawn to her and she to him.

Based on Eric Holder’s novel, (Stéphane Brizé and Florence Vignon won best adapted screenplay at the 2010 César Awards) this is a story about ordinary people living in a rural town in France. Brizé brings this vividly to life by filming Jean’s daily building work, and the banality of his wife’s work in a factory. The film’s central conflict comes from the fact that Jean and Anne Marie are actually happily married. She is both attractive and kind and they are loving parents to their young boy.

It is Melle Chambon’s playing of the violin that first captivates Jean and this soon turns into an erotic obsession. Brizé conveys this through close-ups Melle Chambon – the nape of her neck and fragmented images of her body glimpsed by Jean through a crack in a door or from his car’s wing mirror. Both Melle Chambon and her violin playing stir new and unexpected emotions in him.

Jean, essentially a decent man, finds himself overwhelmed by his feelings and is forced to face a poignant dilemma. It is a simple story of an impossible love, but the film’s power lies in Brizé’s ability to capture his characters’ fragile emotions on screen.  In many scenes, very little is said, but the smouldering looks and awkward silences between Lindon and Kiberlain (who were once married to one another) speak volumes about their characters’ suppressed desires.

Brizé cleverly conveys location through the use of car number plates and the Southern Mistral helps place the film geographically as well as evoking the characters’ emotional turmoil. He also tips a wink to Brief Encounter and, like this earlier classic, one of the film’s most suspenseful scenes takes place in a train station.

 Brizé has said of the film that he is “looking to capture something very invisible.” It’s a risky venture but he manages to pull it off; with the help of a terrific cast, Mademoiselle Chambon works as a sublime deconstruction of love and loss.

Originally publshed by The Playground