sun 22/09/2019

Mademoiselle Chambon | reviews, news & interviews

Mademoiselle Chambon

Mademoiselle Chambon

An all-too-brief encounter with all too little of anything

Et maintenant...? Sandrine Kiberlain looks surprised at what everyone else saw coming

After the international success of Not Here to Be Loved, Stéphane Brizé returns with a delicate, sentimental tale of small-town life disrupted when French builder Jean meets Véronique Chambon, his son's junior-school teacher.

And, er, that's it. Pretty much. Jean (Vincent Lindon) doesn't manage his emotions very well (doesn't even seem to realise them for the most part); Véronique (Sandrine Kiberlain, pictured above) - a slightly insipid, freckly figure - doesn't do much better; Jean's wife Anne Marie (Aure Atika) gets a little suspicious. Some... thing... happens... But basically that's the whole story. As spoilers go, the fact that the film is being noisily touted as a modern Brief Encounter (with a little gender reversal) ought to do the trick.

With a storyline bordering on the sketchy, then, Mademoiselle Chambon has to run on the fumes of sympathy, and little more besides. There is some heartache in knowing that Anne Marie can see the signs. Véronique - who seems like a lovely lady - is evidently not getting her fair share. And Jean himself, poor bugger, didn't ask for any of this. 

The acting is immaculate - of necessity - but the film itself wilfully inactive. Jean's character doesn't soar (or even stagger) from jobbing bricky to towering Byronesque romantic. There's no progress of any kind. There's a little tension in the fact that he's evidently not the most eloquent man when it comes to the emotions; but you can't help but feel that other men of his type would have just stopped before they started. It's not even clear what there is to choose between the two women. They are both attractive, both loving in their way(s). I suppose Jean is bored of the one he's known for years; but then all Véronique has over Anne Marie is blonde hair and an interest in classical music (in which respect Jean is totally unschooled, so it's not as though he's just found his soulmate). If there was supposed to be something telling in Jean being a builder - creating, being ordered, sheltering - it didn't bear out, and it's not as though primary teachers traditionally represent the other side of that metaphor.

There's just not much of a story in not doing something

And although the whole love/lust business is neither unrequited nor even unconsummated, they don't really follow through with it either (I suppose there's a weird frisson to Jean and Véronique inevitably getting it on if you're aware that Lindon and Kiberlain used to be married; but only if you are aware, and so what?). You don't blame the characters. You just wish they'd get a grip, one way or the other. The fact that they don't have a full-blown affair is - morally, and in terms of the narrative - by the by. There's just not much of a story in not doing something.

The whole film has the whiff of having been crafted in verse for no better reason than that it would be more poétique than in prose. It's not a triumph of style over substance: it's style winning by default. Even then, there's only so many times an audience can be expected to wring poignancy from the sound of a trowel on a breeze block or a CD being put back on a shelf.

Sound, in general, is an issue. There are... very long... pauses in speech. There's a lot of wind (gales which the picture suggests should be breezes; but also a persistent airy noise in the audio track). Too much shuffling of rough-hewn farmhouse-type furniture and the clacking of coffee bowls. Sure, in the tense moments, you can hear a pin drop - but how often does that actually happen? 

The killer, though, is the violin. Véronique's playing (Kiberlain's own) is all way too close to the mic, making it sound as amateur as it actually is. They seem to have got her the cheapest instrument in the store. And, my word, does it go on. The rest of the score implies a romance of great cosmopolitan scope - and this does no favours to a stiflingly parochial film in which "I bought some bread" constitutes a significant line. I struggled to derive any pleasure from it. Perhaps I wasn't supposed to; but then I didn't derive much of anything else, either.

  • Mademoiselle Chambon opens today

Watch Jean and Véronique in action

As spoilers go, the fact that the film is being noisily touted as a modern Brief Encounter ought to do the trick

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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