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Mademoiselle Chambon

Lorber // Unrated // December 7, 2010
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted January 10, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

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.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

Kino/Lorber bring Mademoiselle Chambon to Blu-ray in a 1080p AVC encode, framed at its originally-intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio and packing a healthy bitrate that often reaches the mid-30s in Mbps. Shot on Super 35mm from just a year ago, this high-definition nimbly ensnares an appropriate film-like presence for the cinematography that Brizé offers. It never reveals artificiality or any lack of attention to detail, rendering a few exceptional interior shots that encapsulate Sandrine Kiberlain's fair skin and wardrobe elegantly, while also honing in on a few robust colors and textures in the French and dusty construction sites. But most of the film resides in tightly-framed interior shots that focus more on a pair of individuals, paying little mind to the details in their surroundings (aside from one adorable shot involving a plate of cookies and a smiley face), and Kino/Lorber's disc nails down the proper focus it needs to make the viewing experience a welcome one.

Don't expect very much dynamic activity from Mademoiselle Chambon in the audio arena, though it does arrive in a front-heavy French DTS HD Master Audio track from Kino/Lorber that preserves the filmmaker's aural intents. Only a few scenes focus on actual robust sound effects: the sound of a jackhammer against concrete, the scraping of a windowsill, and the strumming of a live violin at two points int he film. These scenes are the ones that showcase where the high-definition sound design gains its importance, even in the more low-key films: they effectively preserve the ambient rattle of chipping cement and the sensual allure of a bow against the strings, while keeping everything else quiet and balanced. Otherwise, it's all about the dialogue between Jean and Véronique, or Jean and his family, and the disc retains a space-aware concentration that always allows the interior shots feeling natural and real. Optional English subtitles are available, which terrifically retain the spritzing of light humor present in the film.

Special Features:

Unfortunately, the special features are about as sparse as the film's content itself. A relatively lengthy Interview with Stéphane Brizé (31:28, non-HD AVC) reflects on the process in which he arrived at adapting Eric Holden's novel, discussing how he wanted to adapt the novel at a younger age but felt he wasn't "mature" enough as a director to dwell on the quieter scenes. He also discusses motifs in the film, like windows, offering a very lucid explanation to his recurring visual technique. He also discusses the film's "modesty", deleted scenes, and the different versions of "bliss" in couples' first kisses. The disc rounds things out with those Deleted Scenes (11:41, non-HD AVC) Stéphane Brizé mentions in his interview, with a preface from Stéphane Goudet, as well as an overstated Trailer (1:50, AVC) for the film and a Stills Gallery.

Final Thoughts:

Mademoiselle Chambon stirs on a subtle and tender level, which sparsely paints a picture of neglected passion in a realistic light. The swell of emotion generated between actors Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain never shorts its audience on involving magnetism, leaving one wrapped up in the stirring fabric woven between them throughout the entire picture. Though the vagueness of the characters' propulsion towards their attraction to one another might not service some, others will see an opportunity for personal reflection in their purely-motivated draw, as well as being engrossed in the electricity in their affective interpersonal rapport. Strongly Recommended, only evading a higher nod due to the low number of supplements.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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