Movie Reviews
9:24 am
Tue August 10, 2010

Mademoiselle Chambon

Gallic longing

The Twilight series specializes in teen longing, hours of vampires, were-wolves, and civilians longing for each other without much in the way of sex. That is dull viewing. But the French seem to get matters of the heart right, as in the full length film about longing, Mademoiselle Chambon.

Jean (Vincent Lindon) is a builder with an adorable boy and loving wife. Figuratively he has built a satisfying life, yet the opening shot is of tearing down, specifically a floor but contextually his life. Into this life comes his son's attractive teacher, Veronique Chambon, all violin playing and the sweetest disposition this side of the Virgin Mary. When he fixes her window, he also begins building a relationship hanging around the edges of adultery.

The longing comes from multiple shots with no dialogue, typically European, and specifically French, because there is an artistic joy in the languid shots. The actors express their sweet frustration with small movements of their eyes and mouths, and the camera stays with them for many seconds longer than the longest American takes.

The climax comes when Jean's pregnant wife sees Veronique play violin at his father's birthday and Jean's sympathetic response. The final act has the most action, and that's not much, and not necessarily what you expected. However, it's done with the greatest subtlety as the tortured Jean makes his choices and the patient Veronique sheds just a few tears, but meaningful ones, so underplayed is her part.

It's all quiet and slow, just like most of our lives. Director Stephane Brize's love of this love affair and gentle Jean's attachment to his family is apparent from the opening sequence with the family figuring out what a grammatical "direct object" is to the final trip to the train station.

Like Citizen Kane's Bernstein longing for the girl with the parasol, Jean will probably never be the same having experienced the tyranny of lyrical love, adulterous or not: Mademoiselle Chambon.