Though hardly remarkable in its treatment of infidelity-especially by French standards-writer/director Stéphane Brizé's adaptation of Éric Holder's novel Mademoiselle Chambon offers the kind of intimate, naturalistic look at human interaction that recalls the heyday of Eric Rohmer. That alone should lure enough cinema-starved Francophiles to justify Lorber Films' acquisition, both in theatrical and on DVD.
Set in a tranquil southern French hamlet, the story centers on the unlikely affair that transpires between a quiet, surly construction worker named Jean (Vincent Lindon) and his young son's schoolteacher, Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain). The evolution of the affair, however, is decidedly non-cinematic-a nervous attraction that develops like a slow simmer after Jean delivers a stilted occupational presentation to his son's class. While each senses the other's attraction, it fosters more awkwardness than obvious passion as they fumble through subsequent meetings-he repairs her window, she plays violin for him-unable to muster the courage to act. Notably absent are the usual catalysts for such a tryst-Jean's marriage to Anne-Marie (Aure Atika) shows no obvious stresses or fissures; while Veronique, apart from an itinerant streak, appears personable, bright and otherwise well-adjusted. As a result, the eventual consummation of the affair comes across as anticlimactic, almost chaste.
All of this, of course, is by design. Brizé is interested neither in titillation nor provocation but in the naked exploration of unexpected even unwanted emotions. In casting Kiberlain and Lindon-who were once married in real life-he is able to physically distance his camera without emotionally distancing the audience. Dialogue is also intentionally mundane so as to emphasize the in-between silences that say more than words ever could.
Notably missing in this approach is the burden of moral judgment-no surprise given the film's pedigree. Like so many other directors before him, Brizé is principally concerned with the anthropology of attraction rather than its morality-if there is a price to be paid for infidelity, it's not his job to assign it. That's obviously not enough to distinguish Mademoiselle Chambon from comparable films on the same subject, but Brizé's treatment is so polished and the film's performances so subdued and seamless that it seems almost unjust finding fault in the effort.
Distributor: Lorber Films
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain, Aure Atika, Jean-Marc Thibault and Arthur Le Houérou
Director/Screenwriter: Stéphane Brizé
Producers: Milena Poylo and Gilles Sacuto
Running time: 101 min.
Release date: May 28 NY