Friday, September 10, 2010
A Bittersweet Love Affair From France
“Mademoiselle Chambon” is an exquisite, bittersweet fable of forbidden love from France via writer-director Stephane Brize.
Based on a novel by Eric Holder, “Mlle Chambon” explores desire, discontentment and the consequences of following rash emotional and sexual impulses.
Jean (Vincent Lindon) is a solid, blue-collar Parisian citizen, married to loving and loyal Anne-Marie (Aure Atika) and father to bright, energetic Jeremy (Arthur Le Houerou).
Jean is a stone mason and all-around contractor. His son’s teacher, Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain) invites Jean to lecture Jeremy’s classmates about his practical occupation.
Jean graciously accepts the assignment, and after Mlle Chambon thanks him, she asks him what she might do about a leaky window in her apartment.
This is one of those ah-ha moments, played with great subtlety and delicacy by Lindon and Kiberlain, who were once man and wife. Though nothing has been spoken out loud, we know Jean has already fallen under the spell of Mlle Chambon. Though the request is seemingly innocent, we know it is not, as we can see desire building in the limpid eyes of Veronique, who has had many affairs but never a long-term relationship.
Once a concert violinist, Veronique has been a drifter and a loner ever since she quit music. Jean agrees to install a new window in her house, and when he spots the violin she once played, he asks Veronique if she could play him a tune.
Veronique refuses at first, then acquiesces, only if she can play with her back turned, due to the extreme shyness that sabotaged her career.
The tune is an achingly romantic piece by Ferenc von Vecsey. Again without words, we know Jean is a goner. Their passion is sealed with a kiss. The next day she leaves a simple note: “Thinking of you.” Not long afterward Anne-Marie informs Jean she is pregnant.
There is a reason why forbidden love is called forbidden. It may be wonderfully exciting and invigorating, but it causes terrible pain for loved ones.
Jean is such a good guy he even washes the feet of his elderly father, who is having an 80th birthday party hosted by Anne-Marie. Recklessly, Jean invites Veronique to play her violin at the party. Equally recklessly Veronique agrees.
During the party Jean inexplicably flies off the handle at his wife, who wails, “What’s going on Jean? Where are you?”
Jean is lost in the wilderness of lust and passion, but Veronique calls his bluff when she tells him she has finally decided to settle down and stay at the school where she is.
Anyone who has been tangled in a triangular relationship will react with discomfort to Jean’s dilemma. Will he go with his heart or his head?
You’ll have to see this masterful little film to see the conclusion, but it is not as simple as you may think.