Day 83: 'Mademoiselle Chambon'

There are two ways to describe the arthouse French love story Mademoiselle Chambon. It is on one hand a meditative, probing, longing look at the emotional and perhaps physical affair that happens between a construction worker and his young son's substitute teacher. On the other, it is a fairly predictable, overly long piece of cinema that aspires to make something new and familiar out of a long-standing film tradition - the unrequited passion between lovers who finally find each other, but can't eternally connect because of their different stations in life.

I can appreciate on the first level the amount of heartfelt passion that's been poured into this film by director Stephane Brize and stars Vincent Lindon as the middle-class construction worker Jean, and Sandrine Kiberlain as the title character, whose elegant teacher and musician is rendered lonely and lovely in visual scenarios that are always beautiful and natural. Their tentative, evolving relationship, after Jean talks to his young son's class about his career, happens in a way that's true to real life. She needs someone to fix her window, and he obliges. He hears her play her violin, and borrows a few of her CDs. They slowly, carefully discover things in each other that are complementary and inspire further desires for fulfillment.

Still, I wouldn't necessarily recommend the movie because as true to its own steady, elongated rhythm as it is, the character of Jean is left ultimately incomplete. While the film is an ode to quiet, reverent solitude (it's mostly visuals without much dialogue), Jean's motivations are still needing sharper definition. The film lays on different levels of subtle seduction, but offers up only observations without much insight into the affairs of regular people.

Arthouse fans may disagree with me, but I think Jean's resolution causes an imbalance to the merits of the final film. I was left as mystified as his pretty, understanding wife. He seems to love her and his son and his dad that he gently takes cares of...but he's also enchanted by the new, stimulating presence in his life...and yet...he's capable of doing...what exactly? In the end, his sacrifice could be more, or less, but it's left somewhat ambiguous. That might have been intended, but then it renders the whole movie, for me at least, as mostly pretty pictures signifying not very much...

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