A touching, soft-spoken portrait of two adults fighting to contain their carnal passions from spilling over into a full-blown affair.

Thoughtful and endearing, though not entirely new, Gallic drama “Mademoiselle Chambon” offers a touching, soft-spoken portrait of two adults fighting to contain their carnal passions from spilling over into a full-blown affair. Following in the delicate footsteps of his previous “Not Here to Be Loved” and “Between Adults,” scribe-helmer Stephane Brize’s adaptation of Eric Holder’s novel is hands-off, both aesthetically and literally, allowing near-wordless scenes to play out with the slightest of gestures and virtually zero sex. Pic has performed modestly at home and reps a strong fourth feature from a filmmaker who deserves recognition outside France.

Starring former real-life couple Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain, and set among the working- and middle-class denizens of an unnamed provincial French town, the film is largely a realistic enterprise that depicts an ordinary event with little fanfare or embellishment.

Initially, Jean (Lindon), a burly, laconic mason who lives with his factory-worker wife (Aure Atika) and son (Arthur Le Houerou) in a quiet suburban home, seems interested in little beyond the daily grind. But when he meets his son’s teacher, ex-violinist Veronique (Kiberlain), the attraction is almost immediate. He soon offers to fix one of her windows as a means to get closer.

Taking the notion that opposites attract a tad too bluntly, Brize and regular co-writer Florence Vignon show Jean the ruffian easily falling for Veronique’s love of classical music and otherwise delicate ways. He slowly succumbs to her charms during the various work sessions but, like a frightened animal, keeps a guarded distance and refuses to close the deal.

Much of the film’s tension rests on whether the two will finally let their passions run wild, and how the act of doing so would weigh all too heavily on their consciences. Though the issue is resolved somewhat surprisingly in a suspenseful closing reel, Jean’s efforts at self-restraint, combined with a deep and heavy longing, remain the central focus of the narrative.

Lindon’s portrayal of a blue-collar type smitten by Veronique’s culture and class is remarkably subtle and moving, and he just barely lets emotions penetrate his coarse exterior. Less compelling is Kiberlain’s Veronique, who, despite a superior intellectual level, seems to have little visible depth and all too easily becomes a victim of her own desires.

Mademoiselle Chambon

France

Production

A Rezo Films release of a TS Prods., F Comme Film, Arte France Cinema production, in association with Rezo Films, La Sofica Soficinema 4, with participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star, CNC. (International sales: Rezo World Sales, Paris.) Produced by Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto. Directed by Stephane Brize. Screenplay, Brize, Florence Vignon, based on the novel by Eric Holder.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Antoine Heberle; editor, Anne Klotz; music, Ange Ghinozzi; production designer, Valerie Saradjian; costume designer, Anne Dunsford; sound (DTS), Frederic de Ravignan, Herve Guyader, Thierry Delor; assistant director, Emile Louis; casting, Brigitte Moidon. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles 23, Paris, Oct. 22, 2009. (Also in Pusan Film Festival -- World Cinema.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain, Aure Atika, Jean-Marc Thibault, Arthur Le Houerou.
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