A French riff on Brief Encounter, Mademoiselle Chambon depicts the unexpected romance that blooms between Jean (Vincent Lindon), a happily married husband and father, and Veronique (Sandrine Kiberlain), his son’s schoolteacher. The pair meets when Veronique, who plays the violin and is knowledgeable of fine arts, asks Jean, a construction worker, to speak to her students about his profession.
Director Stephane Brize, who co-wrote the screenplay based on Eric Holder’s novel, uses long takes and a simple, naturalistic style to convey the characters’ growing but unspoken attraction, which begins when Veronique sees how well Jean communicates with her pupils. She asks his advice about a drafty window in her apartment, and he offers to repair it. After the work is completed, he notices her violin and asks her to play for him. Veronique’s music stirs something undiscovered in Jean – a peek into a culture of art and beauty he knows nothing about – and his curiosity deepens her interest in this courteous and rugged working-class man.
Set in a small rural town where life is simple and everyone knows everyone else’s secrets, Mademoiselle Chambon is best when it focuses on the pair’s mutual longing. Lindon and Kiberlain were a couple who had split up by the time of the filming, and their real-life intimacy adds considerably to their performances. Their silences are fraught with romantic tension. The more time they spend together – platonically – the more mundane Jean’s life at home with his wife and son begins to seem. Is Jean a bad man for discovering there is more to life?
Although it deals with some monumental themes, Mademoiselle Chambon also feels wispy and inconsequential. A few more scenes with Jean and his family (such as an excellent early sequence in which he and his wife help their son with his homework) might have added weight and angst to his dilemma. Jean’s visits to the home of his ailing father are reminders of his mortality, but the symbolism is too obvious for a movie that fares better with subtlety. Mademoiselle Chambon is moving in spots, but it doesn’t stir you the way the best films about heartache do. You feel for these two star-crossed lovers, then forget about them the moment the movie is over.
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain, Aure Atika, Jean-Marc Thibault, Arthur le Houerou.
Director: Stephane Brize.
Screenwriters: Stephane Brize, Florence Vignon. Based on the novel by Eric Holder.
Producers: Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto.
A Lorber Films release. Running time: 101 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Sexual situations. In Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Sunrise; in Palm Beach: Mizner Park, Shadowood, Delray.