Jean, his loving wife and son live a simple, happy life. At his son's homeroom teacher Madamoiselle Chambon's request, he volunteers as substitute teacher and starts to fall for her delicate... Read allJean, his loving wife and son live a simple, happy life. At his son's homeroom teacher Madamoiselle Chambon's request, he volunteers as substitute teacher and starts to fall for her delicate and elegant charm. His ordinary life between family and work starts to falter.Jean, his loving wife and son live a simple, happy life. At his son's homeroom teacher Madamoiselle Chambon's request, he volunteers as substitute teacher and starts to fall for her delicate and elegant charm. His ordinary life between family and work starts to falter.
Some loves make sense and fit neatly into our life narratives. We fall in love with a person because we've had extended contact with that person. We know that he is of an appropriate age, social class, belief system, and occupation. We agree with this person on politics, music, and food. We have long talks with these rational loves, and share life events.
Other loves are wildly irrational; they're like being overwhelmed by an invisible wind. We look across a crowded room, catch the eye of a complete stranger, and, within moments or hours, we know we are as in love as we will ever be. We're not in love because we've had a long conversation with this person and gotten to know them; we haven't. We're not in love because we've shared key life events; we have not. We don't decide on this type of love. It decides on us.
With this love, every tiny detail, every evanescent nuance, silent moments when nothing is said, take on thunderous impact: her eyes move from the floor to his shoulder; her knees swing three inches toward his, his lips slightly part. Our hearts pound. We surrender to the full thrust of love, all of its physical and spiritual manifestations, and yet we know next to nothing concrete about the other person. Perhaps we never see that person again. Perhaps we exchange a few stolen kisses, or an afternoon of passion. Perhaps we connect forever; perhaps we say a heart-wrenching goodbye. "Mademoiselle Chambon" captures wordless, irrational love.
Jean (Vincent Lindon) is a rumpled, paunchy, middle-aged construction worker. He is married to Anne-Marie, a factory worker. They have one son, Jeremy. Anne-Marie is hurt on the job and can't pick up Jeremy from school. Jean must go. There he encounters Mademoiselle Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain) Jeremy's teacher. And Jean will never be the same.
Jean and Anne-Marie have a few other meetings. Not much is said. Not much happens. A passer-by, carefully observing their encounters, would have no idea that he or she was witnessing an event that neither Jean nor Veronique will ever forget.
Many "slow" movies bore me to tears. "Mademoiselle Chambon" is a "slow" movie and it never bored me. I came to understand that every line of dialogue, every apparently casual scene, is a minefield packed with meaning. In the opening scenes, Jean reveals his awkward inability to help his son with his homework. This prepares us for the story of an inarticulate construction worker who falls in love with a school teacher. The topic of his son's homework is the direct object – the object acted upon by the noun – or by fate. In a couple of scenes of Veronique's apartment, the viewer catches a glimpse of Bernini's statue of a helpless St. Teresa of Avila being pierced with an arrow of passion by a smiling cherub. St. Teresa is very much the direct object of that arrow, as are Jean and Veronique. Passion is beautiful and painful, life affirming and life threatening. Passion is both sexual and sacred. Jean is shown both tearing down, and putting up, walls. These walls are metaphorical as well as actual.
Three scenes in this movie are as definitive a treatment of their subject matter as any scene in any film. In one, a musician plays music with her back to her audience. Before she begins, she turns around with a luminous look of vulnerability. In another, two people listen to a piece of music. I won't describe the third scene to you, because I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but if you see the film, you'll know what I mean.
"Mademoiselle Chambon" is not perfect. It is under-produced, in Dogme-95 style. Actors don't wear make-up; there's no professional lighting to speak of. "Mademoiselle Chambon" would have worked better for me with higher production values.
I got to know Jean, but I was never sure of Veronique. I wanted to like her more than I did, to understand her very hard choices better, and to respect her choices more. Aure Atika is miscast. I never believed her as a factory worker, or as Jean's wife. And the ending struck me as incomplete and unsatisfying. I think the filmmaker wanted to make a movie that would ravish audiences emotionally. That he did. I wanted to have an intellectual understanding of how these events would play out in the future of the characters. I didn't get that from this movie, and I left it feeling that a sequel is necessary.
Finally, of course this film is like the classic David Lean film, "Brief Encounter" starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. I think that film gives the viewer more of a sense of the fullness of all the characters, and how the events shown during the film will play out in the characters' lives in the future. In short, to me, "Brief Encounter" felt more like a complete work of art.
- Nov 15, 2011