The Blue Room

| May 14, 2015

After having a yearlong affair with Esther (Stephanie Cleau), Julien (Mathieu Amalric) finds himself in police custody being interrogated relentlessly.  Without knowing exactly what’s going on, the audience is forced to jump around in time, seeing Julien’s infidelity juxtaposed with his interrogation, constantly asking ourselves what’s going on.  This disorientation as a way to keep the audience guessing may impress certain viewers, but I had a hard time getting into it.

Any movie that presents itself as a puzzle and dares me to solve it instantly pulls me out of the moment-to-moment action of the story.  I spent the entire movie asking myself what Julien’s been arrested for.  Murder?  Who’s murder?  Is Esther dead?  Esther’s husband?  I didn’t have it figured out by the time of the reveal, but that doesn’t make the reveal any more interesting to me.

To be fair, I’m not sure what I would suggest to fix the film.  It’s based on a book, so massive plot changes tend to be unacceptable, but I’d argue they’re necessary.  A few years ago Pixar put out a list of writing tips that they adhere to when approaching a new script.  I don’t remember most of them, but the one that always stuck out to me was to throw out the most obvious ideas.  Why is Julien arrested?  Whatever your answer to that question is, throw it out.  Whatever your alternate answer is, throw it out.  Whatever your third answer is, throw it out.  Once you do this a few times, you’re really forced to think outside the box and come up with something more original than what the movie ends up delivering.

The movie really leans heavily on its eroticism, but like the rest of the film it didn’t strike me as all that effective.  Julien is a bland, lifeless character, and until his arrest nothing much goes wrong in his life.  He has a beautiful wife, great daughter, great job, and still insists on having an affair.  There’s an interesting character study to be made about Julien’s self-destructive nature and his discontent, but Amalric (who also directed and co-wrote the film) doesn’t bring any of that to his performance.

Unfortunately, the other characters don’t get enough screen time to fully develop.  Esther’s obsession with Julien feels forced and cliché, and Julien’s wife Delphine (Lea Drucker) seems to constantly suspect something’s up with her husband but that never leads to any conflict or anything else interesting for the audience to enjoy.

No special features on the DVD which will be available from IFC Films on May 19.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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