August 19, 2010

Mademoiselle Chambon

      August 19, 2010

This French gem is a reworking of one of my all-time favorite weepies, “Brief Encounter.” I’ve seen that movie dozens of times, and whenever it happens to be on TCM, I’ll DVR it and watch it again because it’s kind of like an old friend I haven’t visited with for a while. Certain films are like that.

If “Mademoiselle” were a book, it would be comprised primarily of internal dialogues because the characters don’t say much to each other. In its subject manner and style, it resembles a movie I talked about in post a couple of weeks ago called, “I Am Love.”

But this one really pops. Why? For starters, the chemistry between the understated lovers (a divorcing couple in real life) is palpable. No overwrought music or running around the countryside. Just soulful glances and tiny hand gestures. And what faces the two leads have. Their weary eyes and down-turned lips speak of a lifetime of sadness and dreams unfulfilled.

Jean is a married construction worker who makes talking to a class of children look sexy. Veronique is an unmarried upper-crust substitute teacher who has taken over his son’s class for the year. For reasons that are never explained, she moves from place to place. The two of them are drawn together when she asks him to speak to her students about his occupation. They strike up a romance that taps into their discontent with their lives.

During the course of the film, Jean discovers his wife is pregnant. That makes his intense attraction to Veronique all the more impossible. She plans to go to Paris at the end of the school year. He wants to go with her, but of course he can’t leave his family, including an elderly father to whom he’s very devoted.

Jean, who is uneducated—he can’t tell his son what a direct object is—, is stirred by the fact that Veronique is an accomplished violinist. He invites her to his father’s birthday party to play. It’s an affair bursting with life and affection. Afterwards, she remarks upon the love between father and son and tells him that she and her family aren’t close. That’s about as much about her background as we know.

As the movie unfolded, I couldn’t help thinking about the difference between writing a novel (this film was adapted from a book by Eric Holder) and making a film. On the page, the characters’ feelings can be described explicitly. Even though writers frequently withhold information about a character’s motivation and history, still you’re much closer to the action—probably because it’s going on inside your head.

At the movies, you’re literally further away, even though you’re sitting in a darkened theater with a huge screen, sometimes almost touching noses with the characters. You’re a watcher, not a doer.

So what you find out about the people up there is usually dependent upon how well the actors let you see what’s going on, which Vincent Lindon as Jean and Sandrine Kiberlain as Veronique do wonderfully well. It’s a magic trick I don’t understand

Here are links to a review and a trailer.

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