Among the many elements that never seem to be quite resolved in movies, is what might be conveyed on screen to convince that two characters are compelled to fall in love more with one another, than anyone else. And while the notion that love is blind tends to be universally accepted, when the deck is stacked against an especially unlikely odd couple, who perhaps share the mutual predicament of being frustrated underachievers, there’s got to be more at work than simply emotionally sustained eye contact.
French director Stephane Brize’s Mademoiselle Chambion, while poetically crafted and suffused with dramatic intensity, lingers in the mind less as a fully satisfying narrative, than one plagued with questionable psychological and class issues. In other words, slim evidence of an overwhelming hypnotic attraction between the two designated lovebirds, along with an undercurrent of class disdain and elitism.
Vincent Lindon is Jean, a carpenter and devoted family man in a provincial French town. Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain) is a new teacher who has arrived recently, and Jean’s son is a pupil in her class. When Mme Chambon asks Jean to talk about his profession to the class and learns that he is a carpenter, she is soon inquiring if he can repair her broken patio doors.
And when Jean enters into the novelty of the teacher’s awe-inspiring secluded world within her apartment, one encompassing art and especially the music of this self-effacing extraordinary violinist, he is at first transfixed by her playing. And then by extension, the teacher as an irresistible object of desire. Which in turn renders his devoted wife, an uneducated factory worker with ordinary preoccupations, increasingly less alluring in comparison.
While art as the aphrodisiac more than lust is emphasized in the story, along with unspoken subtle references to Jean’s midlife crisis and risking everything for joy in the face of looming mortality – especially when accompanying his elderly father in one scene on a shopping expedition for his future coffin – there still exists nevertheless a great chasm between the satisfying warmth and pleasures of his family life, and the overwhelming impulse to abandon everything. And for a woman with whom there is little to connect them beyond musical passion, in the face of vast intellectual and class differences which are never confronted, surmounted or resolved.
And while Mademoiselle Chambon as a film sheds a complex, refreshing new light on the conventionally demonized ‘other woman’ in movies, regressive bourgeois bias towards proletarians is more entrenched than ever. Let’s not forget that some of the most remarkable, globally embraced music and impassioned creativity in history has derived from workingclass roots.
2 1/2 stars