Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
The Blue Room tackles marriage and infidelity with precision and tact, ruthlessly portraying the lengths that people will go to preserve their love. The film is directed by its French lead actor, Mathieu Amalric, an acclaimed character actor from studio films such as Quantum of Solace and The Grand Budapest Hotel. He has made an exploration of love that spiritually feels connected to French New Wave cinema, using hypnotic flashbacks and expert framing to tell a story far more expansive than its admittedly simple premise. These are complex characters with lustful motivations. Julien Gahyde (Mathieu Amalric) is married to Delphine (Léa Drucker), and they live in a respectable home with a lovely daughter. Julien doesn’t love Delphine, though, but falls for Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau), the wife of one of his friends. They meet in a blue room at a hotel to secretly make love as often as they can.
They bite at each other, they lie naked for hours after making love, and they embrace every chance they get. Their love is fully realized. Yet the film jumps between those flashbacks and a darker, modern narrative, with Julien in custody for the supposed murder of…someone. When it’s revealed that Esther is also accused of a similar crime, the case feels embroiled in passion and jealousy. The story doesn’t extend much past that initial set-up, using criminal questioning and the court case itself as the means of delivering the full narrative. The flashbacks reveal a troubled marriage that was fueled by a wife full of suspicion and a husband full of ambivalence. A key scene involves the couple going on a date to the movies, him parking the car while she buys tickets, and him driving as quickly as possible down the street to meet with Esther. The silence in the theater between the two shows the silent, tragic acknowledgement of the truth behind their façade.
Stunning cinematography traditionally comes hand-in-hand with French filmmaking, so it’s unsurprising that the distanced, cold glance of the camera further isolates the couple and their cheating actions. A stark mirroring device by Amalric accentuates the passion and lack thereof that exists between the two separate couples: blood drips from Julien’s lips after a sexual encounter leaves his lip a little bloody, while an encounter at home with Delphine uses a similarly colored liquid in an equally affecting way. The film treats sexuality as candidly and appropriately as it should, considering its necessity to understanding the narrative. Nudity is treated as nonchalant and Amalric never moves away from what needs to be seen. The film silently floored me and made me feel similar to Gone Girl, since both films focus on disintegrating marriages in a modern society and the way that passion can be both lost and regained. The Blue Room is a short, more deliberately nuanced take on the material, making for a devastatingly honest romance.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)