Terrific romance from Belgium; unfortunately forgotten
LA CHAMBRE ROUGE is one of those great little film "miniatures" that often get lost in the shuffle -it's not pretentious or gimmicky enough to have stayed in circulation. On its merits, it deserves a full-scale revival.
Maurice Ronet, alongside Jean Sorel among my favorite French stars of the '60s, is in fine form as egotistical theater director Jean, visiting old friends in Belgium where he's staging "Tartuffe". The young daughter of his old flame (Francoise Brion) understandably gets a crush on him, and they meet in the title room, a bordello-styled red boudoir, to have trysts.
It's a simple story, embellished with wonderful local color of not overly familiar Belgian locations. Theme is disillusionment in the Alberto Moravia fashion, as heroine Helene is brought down to earth with a jolt after her love affair with Ronet and a brief fling with a young soldier. I won't give away the final scene but it is elegantly planned and stylishly directed, right down to a final orchestral crescendo.
Ronet as a cad is perfect casting, effortlessly acted -I can't think of a bad performance in his entire canon. Shorthand to making us aware of where he's coming from is his driving a snazzy Ford Mustang. When he gets his comeuppance, lots of locals angry with his "Topless Tartuffe" staging, it was most satisfying.
But it is Sharon Gurney as Helene who is a revelation -on the basis of this single performance she's cemented among my all-time faves. Her career went nowhere, but she was memorable in a very small but telling role as the doomed Laura, Oliver Reed's young sister who drowns after skinny dipping with lover Christopher Gable early in Ken Russell's WOMEN IN LOVE. Why she was cast in this Belgian film, instead of more obvious European talent like Anny Duperey (who she resembles, only with more "real", earthy features) is a mystery, but she handles the coming-of-age role with panache, and displays a perfect figure for the camera's admiration.
Supporting cast is solid, particularly Brion who really looks like she could be Gurney's mom. A one-shot actress, Marysia, is tantalizing as Ronet's theater manager, styled with that severe platinum hairdo that was the rage back then (Mimsy Farmer, Catherine Jourdan, etc.).
Jean-Pierre Berckmans directs with assurance and subtlety -there are no rookie mistakes for this debuting helmer. Like Gurney, he never made the big time.
It is interesting that the Francose-Mallet Joris novel this is based on uses the same character names (but plot variations) as her novel RAMPART OF DESIRE, a film I haven't seen again since it was released but which would obviously match well with this one.
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