The Blue Room
We begin with panoramic shots of The Blue Room, which is a nicely-appointed European-style hotel room, on the second floor, where outside the patio window a busy street bustles below. The sound track is arresting: it’s of a woman in obvious ecstasy, interspersed with a man’s coital moaning, and at first we think that we’re going to be discreet about showing us what, exactly, they’re doing in there. But discretion is the last thing that French Director Mathieu Amalric has in mind.
He shows us full-frontal. And the woman is stunningly beautiful, and the man is attentive and amorous, and then we wonder if we’ve stumbled on to some foreign version of soft porn, but very quickly the “assignation” recedes into stark, gritty scenes of a police inquiry. The man, Julien (played by Amalric, who also wrote the screenplay), is being questioned by an investigator in his office. The interrogation is not overtly hostile, but it is thorough. He wants to know everything that was said and done, including the classic “How long has this been going on?” Eleven months, it turns out. Eight separate rendezvous. He’d known Esther (Stephanie Cleau) since they were children, but she was always tall and beautiful, and came from such a distinguished family, that he always assumed she was unattainable. That’s why he was really surprised when he was driving on a country road one day and saw her standing beside her car, with a flat, signaling for his help. And like a sheep led to slaughter, he stops to render aid, and she puts the moves on him right then and there. And he is unable to resist her charms. Even though he’s married, he would even say happily. He and his attractive wife, Delphine (Lea Drucker), have a lovely young daughter. He has a good job as a farm implement salesman, and a nice home; the kind of life he really wouldn’t want to jeopardize with a torrid affair. But somehow he can’t help himself. And before he knows it, Esther is asking him if he thinks they could be together always, and he, is in his post-coital languor, finds himself replying in the affirmative----how could he not say something sweet to her in such a vulnerable circumstance? Is he not just playing along with the fantasy for a while, until, like good discreet cosmopolitan French, they quietly end it and go on with their lives like nothing unusual happened?
Ah, but the beautiful Esther is accustomed to getting her way from men. Charming their socks off, as it were. She and her husband work at a local pharmacy which they own with his mother. Maybe the alarm bells should have gone off in Julien’s head when he spots the husband from the window of The Blue Room, seemingly headed their way, and while he’s rushing out in a panic, Esther just pulls the sheet over herself, seemingly unconcerned, while Julien storms out the back door in a panic. And then she leaves the red towel hanging outside the balcony the next week, again, as the signal that the coast is clear, her husband is gone, and they can meet in The Blue Room again.
Her husband’s sudden death makes Julien stay away, out of respect, but he’s surprised to find the red towel hanging outside the balcony again the next week, and even more surprised by notes she leaves in his car, and sends to his office (“It’s our time.”). He’s beginning to think that she’s become alarmingly obsessed. Little does he know.
Yes, it’s a foreign film, and many Americans don’t like fooling with subtitles. And it’s small-scope, almost like it could have been a play in a theater, and the characters are, for the most part, fairly ordinary-looking (at work in her pharmacist’s getup, with no makeup, she isn’t quite so arresting). The tension is all in not letting the viewer know exactly what’s happened until nearly the end, and by that time we are thoroughly enmeshed in this sordid little love triangle, as if it’s something that could happen to any of us, given just the wrong circumstances. Just like Eve taking the apple, and giving it to Adam. Why? Because they could, so they did. Original sin, in deed.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas