The power of a delicate intimate encounter to prove more personally monumental than all of the bombshells and thunderbolts that strike one’s path in a lifetime is a truth the French dramatize superbly, and “Mademoiselle Chambon” demonstrates that distinction.
In this depiction of a romance, falling in love is both elating and thorny for the smitten protagonists, whose dilemma over whether to surrender to their feelings writer-director Stephane Brize is presented gracefully by Entre Adultes.
Gallic hearts and grown-up minds alike should appreciate this chamber-scale but seriously emotional drama.
Although not dazzlingly original — the plot suggests “Brief Encounter” meets Agnes Jaoui’s “The Taste of Others” — it feels consistently fresh and boasts considerable subsurface voltage.
The source material is an Eric Holder novel; Florence Vignon shares screenwriter credits.
In a provincial town, Jean (Vincent Lindon), a rugged-looking mason happily married to factory worker Anne Marie (Aure Atika), meets their young son’s elegant, cultured teacher, Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain).
Veronique asks Jean to speak to her students about his occupation, and his presentation impresses her. Attracted, she mentions her damaged window. Stirred, he repairs it and is transformed when she plays her violin.
The plot-spare drama follows Jean and Veronique as they fall in love, consider the consequences of an affair, fight their feelings and make path-determining decisions.
Suspense comes from the will-they-or-won’t-they ingredient.
This modest film doesn’t qualify as an emotional knockout and isn’t without clichés (the opposites-attract theme included).
It sometimes seems confused over whether it is presenting foremost a triangle, a duet or Jean’s journey.
But compared to most Hollywood romances, it’s a jewel, and by any standard it’s an engrossing, observant and often exquisite movie about the intricacies of attraction, about how love can cause distress as well as euphoria, and about how the heart, the intellect and the conscience operate in different galaxies.
Brize’s understated, often nonverbal storytelling yields terrific material. After Veronique and Jean kiss, Veronique conveys volumes with the mere sad look in her eyes.
The likable Anne Marie’s presence in the tangle is barely discussed but is felt constantly. A passage in which Jean takes his elderly father (Jean-Marc Thibault) coffin shopping is gently affecting.
Lindon and Kiberlain (a former real-life couple) are stellar.
Lindon is believable as an unpolished construction worker besotted by the beauty of music. Kiberlain’s Veronique, whose long neck and face suggest a figure in a Modigliani painting, has a colder demeanor but a touching melancholy.
Starring Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain, Aure Atika, Jean-Marc Thibault
Written by Stephane Brize, Florence Vignon
Directed by Stephane Brize
Running time 1 hour, 41 minutes