Hardworking French actor Mathieu Amalric writes, directs and stars in The Blue Room, a contemporary noir film that echoes the style of the genre from back in its heyday of the 1940s.
The film is billed as an erotic thriller, but to be honest all the erotic stuff is over in the first five minutes. As the film opens, Julien Gahyde (Amalric) is having an affair with Esther Despierre (co-writer Stéphanie Cléau) in a first floor apartment. He has to rush out of the room when Esther’s husband approaches from the street below, and returns home to his wife and daughter. But that’s all in the past. In the present, Julien is answering questions from the police, the prison psychologist and the magistrate, and we quickly realise that Julien has become embroiled in a murder investigation.
The Blue Room oozes noir. It isn’t quite as heavy on the shadows – in fact it’s often brightly lit – but the framing itself is reminiscent of simpler cinematic times. The film is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio also, which evokes films of yesteryear. Finally, there’s Grégor Hetzel’s score, which is deliberately old school, completely eschewing subtlety.
The pacing and editing of The Blue Room is exceptional. At a mere 76 minutes, the time flies by, yet it’s a densely-packed film. There are a number of montages, often combining past and present – one dealt with via voice over, the other presented in images – which results in supremely efficient storytelling.
And for the most part, I loved it. Alas, some significant ambiguities remain by the time the credits roll, and whilst I have no problem with that in principle, in this case it left me frustrated. Noir is such a plot-heavy genre that, without clear-cut answers, it can easily lead to disappointment. I know it can work – the director’s cut of Blade Runner proved that – but here it just feels…cheap.
It’s a pity because a film like this should have broad appeal. It’s nowhere near as arty as the marketing – or indeed the first ten minutes – suggest; this is a punchy thriller touching on universal themes. Almaric and Cléau are good in their respective roles, but they’re required to be elusive in their motives, so it’s difficult to pick a side. Instead, I was left watching the tale unravel, admittedly on the edge of my seat, until the lights came up and I felt strangely unsatisfied.Rating:
The Blue Room is released in Australia on 5 August 2015.