Une Brève Rencontre: 'Mademoiselle Chambon'
It’s not the music of Rachmaninoff, but that of Sir Edward Elgar that informs the brief encounter depicted in "Mademoiselle Chambon." The music, performed by the titular character in this Cesar-winning (Best Adapted Screenplay) film, appropriately communicates the longing for human connection and experience that draws Jean (Vincent Lindon) and Véronique (Sandrine Kiberlain) together.
David Lean’s "Brief Encounter" is the closest cinematic cousin to "Mademoiselle Chambon." That film used a flashback device and narration to explain the inner torment of Laura, a young housewife who almost enters into an affair with a married doctor.
In "Mademoiselle Chambon," Jean, a manual laborer and married father, meets his son’s schoolteacher Véronique, and is invited to speak at a career day. No immediate sparks fly between Véronique and Jean, but their early dialogue is fraught with foreshadowing.
“We need a solid base for the house to stand right,” Jean tells the class.
A young student asks, “When you finish building a house, does it last for life?”
“Yes, if you do it well,” Jean answers.
Nevertheless, Jean is soon visiting Véronique at home to examine a broken window frame. “You’ll need to change this,” he informs her. Véronique plays a selection by Elgar for Jean, and he is touched by the music and surprised by his newfound emotions.
Like "Brief Encounter," "Mademoiselle Chambon" makes the audience wait to find out whether the two characters consummate their affair. When the moment happened, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I do believe the director made the right choice in the way he depicts it on screen.
As Véronique, Sandrine Kiberlain has an amazing ability to convey emotions with her face, even when saying very little or nothing at all. When she unexpectedly learns Jean’s wife is expecting another baby, Kiberlain nails sadness, regret, and disappointment with one line and a few delicate glances.
When Jean invites her to play the Elgar piece (“Salut d’Amour”) for his father’s birthday celebration, Véronique does so, and seems nearly as fragile as her instrument. Her final moments, hopefully, woefully waiting at a train station for her lover are unforgettable.
Anguished characters are never an easy sell on screen, but "Mademoiselle Chambon" delivers a sensitive portrayal of its doomed lovers. Director Stéphane Brizé uses long takes to give his characters room to emote, but elegant on-screen framing devices heighten the sense of claustrophobia that comes with feeling you’re trapped in an untenable situation. It’s up to you to decide what, exactly, that is.
MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON on Blu-ray and DVD
"Mademoiselle Chambon" includes two notable special features on Blu-ray and DVD. A collection of deleted scenes is notable because several of the scenes would have changed the tone of the film had they been included. For example, one scene depicts a playful scene between Jean and his wife, Anne-Marie (Aure Atika), that would have made Jean’s character less sympathetic had it been a part of the film.
Director Stéphane Brizé sits down for a 30 minute interview in another feature. He’s quizzed by an unseen journalist or critic, and unlike American discs, which omit the questions in favor of snappy editing, the interviewer’s voice and questions are heard.
And boy, does he quiz Monsieur Brizé! Brizé’s answers are refreshingly honest, too. When asked about symbolism in the film, he replies “I don’t start [making a movie] by analyzing things. I follow my intuition.”
In all, it’s a very enlightening interview.
Lovers of classic European cinema should embrace this sensitive and thoughtful romance.