Mademoiselle Chambon

Starring Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain and Aure Atika. Directed by Stéphane Brizé.
Rated M (infrequent coarse language). 101 mins.

Very French – but most cultures would identify with the characters and the situations.  Somebody remarked that they were reminded of Brief Encounter (even with an ending at a railway station), but this film develops its characters with a great attention to detail, quite ordinary characters, living quite ordinary lives in a French provincial town.

Jean (Vincent Lindon, seen more recently as the swimming coach in Welcome) is married to Anne-Marie (Aure Autika) and they have a young son, Jeremie.  They seem to be a close-knit family and are initially seen talking homework with Jeremie, especially about verbs and the objective case (not a usual start for a drama).  Jean is a serious builder and spends time as well caring for his about to be 80 father.  Anne-Marie works at a printer.  Jeremie is an average student and is being taught by a new teacher for the year, Mademoiselle Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain, married to Vincent Lindon for ten years and they work very well together).

As mentioned, the film pays great attention to detail, some of the sequences being quite long: Jean washing his father’s feet, Jean invited to talk to the class about his job and answer questions.  The audience is immersed in this provincial world.

But, what can happen?  What will happen?  With a title like Mademoiselle Chambon, we might expect the teacher to be at the centre of a love affair, a tragedy, unrequited love and disappointment (the kind of emotional crisis that Zola or Flaubert wrote about in 19th century France).  There is something of this, but the film’s main concern is with Jean in the 21st century.  He is particularly introverted and it takes a while for us to appreciate that what we think might be going on in his mind is actually going on.  The film moves us in this direction by the use of Mademoiselle Chambon playing the violin and then listening to CDs with Jean.

As the relationship becomes more complex, Jean invites the teacher to play the violin at his father’s 80th birthday party.  There is a wonderful sequence of music, sound, nuanced expressions from the cast and, until the end of the piece, no words, played to Elgar’s.  This sequence indicates emotionally but very clearly what is happening.

In many ways the characters are quite reserved and generally behave in a reserved manner.  So, it is quite a shock when Jean reacts angrily and completely unreasonably to his wife’s suggestion of a buffet for his father’s party.  He is then aggressively angry at the building site.  But, almost completely, this is a film of interiors, of feelings, of infatuation, of live, of infidelity and, ultimately, of decisions.  Bittersweet.

Sharmill Films  Out June 10 2010

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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