Rated R | Time: 1:16
French with subtitles
Like a corpse about to be autopsied, the mystery that is laid bare by “The Blue Room” hardly requires even the economical 76 minutes that director Mathieu Amalric expends on it.
Two naked philanderers, played by Amalric and his real-life partner, Stéphanie Cléau, are initially shown writhing in the titular room they retreat to when they’re cheating on their spouses. She bites him on the lip, drawing blood, and then they engage in the kind of pillow talk, lies and evasions that people in the afterglow of illicit sex sometimes do.
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And then, abruptly, we see Amalric’s Julien being interrogated by the police about some crime that has apparently been committed. Over and over, Julien repeats the same details in response to miscellaneous questioners, including the gendarmes who arrested him, various detectives, a psychiatrist, a judge and his own lawyer.
There are, however, no denials.
What’s more, the issue of exactly what Julien is accused of doing, to whom, with whose help, and for what reasons remains tantalizingly unresolved deep into the film. Eventually we find out, as the story — adapted by Amalric and Cléau from a novel by the classic crime writer Georges Simenon —– inches toward its chilling conclusion. The film is set during the police investigation and subsequent courtroom trial; Julien’s affair with Esther, and the events surrounding it, are only flashbacks, colored by memory and, possibly, deception.
By the time a verdict is rendered in “The Blue Room,” you also will have an opinion. Guilty or innocent, Julien — and, later, Esther —will have answered the same questions so many times that it is impossible not to judge them.
But this is a French kind of mystery, not an episode of “Law and Order,” so some lingering doubt remains even as the closing credits roll. Though Amalric’s telling of the tale sifts through the facts with an increasingly fine sieve, the evidence presented, while damning, is largely circumstantial.
In their lead roles, Amalric and Cléau render fascinating portraits of guilt, desire, recrimination and misdirection. Almost everything they do, say or write can be read in multiple ways (and often is, even by each other). As a storyteller, Amalric is a master of manipulation, first leading the audience in one direction and then another.
“The Blue Room” is a hall of mirrors, reflecting every detail but making it hard to know where you stand.
(At the Tivoli.)
| Michael O’Sullivan
The Washington Post