30 October 2012

Stéphane Brizé's Mademoiselle Chambon (2009)

In this wonderfully understated film (and I mean that literally) the music – notably Franz von Vescey's Valse Triste – has to be more articulate than the characters. Stéphane Brizé's Mademoiselle Chambon is adapted from Éric Holder's novel of the same name, and stars Vincent Lindon as builder Jean (the father of the boy he takes to school), and Sandrine Kiberlain as Véronique, the sophisticated supply teacher. On the surface, Jean and Véronique have little in common, although their passion for music and building (respectively) forms a bridge that joins the two and triggers extremely intense emotions that they know shouldn't be expressed. The film expresses itself through this non-expression.
 
The scene in which Véronique plays her violin in front of the family group gathered for Jean's father's (probably final) birthday – the would-be home wrecker whose very performance informs Jean's wife of the love between the two – is scarcely credible realistically, but we suspend our disbelief as we listen to the instrument screaming Véronique's love, and watch Jean's spellbound response as the birthday party dissolves into irrelevance.
 
The place where the story is set isn't mentioned, and in any case knowledge of it would detract from the central idea: the film isn't really even about two star-crossed lovers – it is about the impossibility of possibilities: the paradox of reality.
 
The obvious reference is David Lean's Close Encounter, and perhaps Marquerite Duras's novella Moderato Cantabile, although – probably because of the haunting music and the impossibilities – I was also strongly reminded of Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan.
 
Unforgettable.

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