The pieces are more intriguing than the whole in Mathieu Amalric’s jaggedly alluring murder thriller, adapted from a novel by prolific Belgian mystery writer Georges Simenon. The film deconstructs a soured love affair in which a man, Julien (Amalric), finds himself caught between his mistress Esther (Stéphanie Cléau) and his wife Delphine (Léa Drucker).
It opens in sensuous and near-absurd fashion as Julien and Esther share an afternoon of passion in the eponymous room, their bodies abstracted – a breast in the corner of the frame, saliva-flecked lips shot in extreme close-up – and their orgasmic cries building. A drop of blood falls on the sheets: Esther has bitten Julien (to his baffled delight), but you might also say she’s vampirically infected him. Come what may, they will not be separated.
No sooner has erotic bliss subsided than we’re in a sterile magistrate’s chambers where Julien is being interrogated about his involvement in some murderous business. We don’t find out the specifics of his alleged crime immediately. Instead, the film jumps around in time, from Julien and Esther’s first sexual encounter, to the cheating husband’s increasingly temperamental interactions with his spouse, back to that inviting blue-walled hotel room and forward to the oppressive courthouse where Julien and Esther’s fate will be decided.
Shame and regret hang over every scene, and these feelings only deepen the longer the movie goes on. This is less of a whodunit than a psychological portrait of one man as he unravels, his guilt ever in question. For all its surface effectiveness, however, ‘The Blue Room’ never quite makes that intangible leap into greatness.