'Mademoiselle Chambon' a Delicate Swell of Emotion

Directed by: Stéphane Brizé, Runtime: 90 minutes
Grade: B+

Nothing seems visibly off about Jean's family. He (Vincent Lindon) and his wife (Aure Atika) teach their son the mechanics of sentence structure on the lawn outside their home, bickering over direct objects and second-guessing their knowledge. Jean's a builder who seems to get an adequate level of pleasure from what he does, while his relationship with his wife seems healthy and on the up-and-up. So when he meets his son's teacher, the violin-playing Véronique (Sandrine Kiberlain), and something stirs between them, it seems a bold decision for him to pursue the flutter of magnetism generated between them. Some might feel like Jean's actions need answering, a reason for following the pull towards Mlle. Chambon; one of this poetic little film's key strengths lies in the fact that this question never receives an answer, nor feels the need to answer it.

Stéphane Brizé's slight but beautiful arthouse romance Mademoiselle Chambon delicately portrays an affair in the making, using glances and body language between two people to convey the emotions often forced upon audiences with words. The director's very aware of the line between staying faithful to one's spouse and stepping over into promiscuity, and exactly how discerning people approach the brink of surrendering to temptation. Jean and Véronique aren't browbeaten towards seeking out a life-affirming affair; they're just two people who see something blossom between one another. They know what's going on, and they know the repercussions. What's mesmerizing is that we're never told that they comprehend these things, only communicated in subversive physical communication -- wide eyes, body stance, and palpable nuance.

The subtle way that Mademoiselle Chambon communicates emotion can be breathtaking, reflecting on neglected desire in a sparse, astonishingly real fashion. Told through the point of view of Jean, which deviates from the line-of-sight that Eric Holder's novel views the relationship from, Brizé navigates the film along the tightrope walk that a person endures when they're inches away from giving in to desire. It's seen in the way Jean pauses when he's driving his car, how he slathers together a brick wall, and the unsuspicious ways that he finds to interact with Véronique. It's all quite authentic, heightened by the spaciously self-conscious way that Brizé frames his interior shots. Intimacy's a high priority here, and the heartbreak simmering at its core wouldn't be as affective without the restraint of its characters.

Nor would it have been as touching without its lead actors. Mademoiselle Chambon's all about the language that Vincent Lindon and the willowy Sandrine Kiberlain share as Jean and Véronique, completely hinged on communicating shackled, ill-fated yearning through the slightest of mannerisms. Lindon evokes a rough guy with a soul as Jean, a man constantly focused on building things for others and maintaining what he's got. Kiberlain centers herself as a lost and lonely woman, dainty but weathered due to a life of disappointment. Though the film's pacing isn't for the impatient, the actors offer an immense return-on-investment with the sublimely low-key electricity that generates when they're in the same room, felt in the unspoken dialogue underneath their everyday chatter. Brizé comprehends that implicit language, and his actors nimbly express his understanding.

Within that, Mademoiselle Chambon tells the pair's underlying stories in an effective secondhand fashion, allowing flickers of Jean and Véronique's personal demons to ever-so-slightly peek their heads out while the current of reserved passion extends. This isn't an affair about sexual gratification, about release or quenching one's thirst, and it's obvious through their control over acting on their bond. Brizé's film becomes potent because of the emotional gratification achieved when they solemnly flirt with the idea, almost as satisfying as actual love-making. Is there a sense of anticipation over whether they'll actually sleep together? Perhaps, but it almost seems unimportant -- both to them, and to us. In their eyes, a bare touch and a slight kiss over violin music are far more important, the indicators of a true and tender love affair.

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