“Mathieu Amalric, an actor with the charm of an elf and the eyes of a rodent, caught the pundits by surprise when he won the Cannes best director prize for his antic burlesque caper On Tour back in 2010,” begins the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “Four years later he’s back on the Croisette with a pungent tale of infidelity and (possible) murder, gently filleted from a Georges Simenon novel and screening out of competition in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. It’s a fitting berth for this coiled, slender film; a drama that works best when it’s hiding out in the shadows. Drag it into the limelight and the troubles begin.”
“[T]his tale of a married man who runs afoul of the law after an affair with a local femme fatale, is marked by taut performances from Amalric and co-writer-star Stephanie Cleau, as well as superb camerawork from DP Christophe Beaucarne (Mr. Nobody), whose decision to shoot in the Academy format only serves to intensify the action.” Jordan Mintzer for the Hollywood Reporter: “The Blue Room, which combines Simenon’s taste for mystery with his taste for sex (he once claimed to have slept with 10,000 women, most of them prostitutes), is less of a whodunit than an investigation of a man torn apart by lust—a sentiment Amalric and editor Francois Gedigier aptly capture by returning time and again to the carnal beauty of the opening sequence, with Gregoire Hetzel’s swooning compositions accompanying the lovers in the manner of a 1940’s or 50’s melodrama.”
“Amalric’s fourth feature as a director is less a whodunnit than a whodunwhat,” agrees Guy Lodge for Variety. That said, though: “Niche in appeal despite nifty, James M. Cain-esque genre trappings, Amalric’s exceedingly neat film doesn’t conjure the breath-holding intensity of mood that marks cinema’s best Simenon adaptations, including Cedric Kahn’s Red Lights and Patrice Leconte’s Monsieur Hire.”
But for Jonathan Romney, writing for Screen Daily, this is Amalric’s “most accomplished directing achievement yet.” It is, “on one hand deeply traditional—a small-town story of a crime investigation hinging on adulterous passion and bourgeois secrets. On the other hand, however, this is a clipped, fragmented piece of cinematic modernism, shuffling its time frames in a staccato narrative that makes for a tense, involving experience from start to finish.”
“The Blue Room weaves both methodically and subtly a beautiful and cruel variation on the classic boundary of love and hate, in the fog of feelings where a sentimental serenade can at times become a requiem,” writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. For more translated-to-English thoughts, see Mónica Delgado at desistfilm.
Update: Indiewire reports that Sundance Selects has acquired North American rights.
Updates, 5/17: Notebook editor Daniel Kasman notes that “despite being set in a small town, Amalric avoids the kind of pointed satire of his crime’s local bourgeois milieu as one would find in Chabrol in favor of a more acutely experienced storytelling. The images and edits align what we see with a kind of sex-and-crime fog which muddles the thinking of the accused, and as such the resulting film…. It is stiletto-slim, elegantly colored, centered on an appropriately stunned, blasé performance from the director flanked by two physically poised yet psychologically opaque actresses.”
“The Blue Room is a great little film,” writes the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey. “It has a headlong rhythm, skittering between timeframes with the skill of a pianist nailing Prokofiev…. Everything’s told in shards, and Amalric does very well to create a sense of emotional continuum amid all the procedural detail. His own performance is fantastic, jittery and disheveled.”
“While cinephiles are aware of Amalric’s range as an actor, he’s displaying an equally fearless and eclectic approach to his filmography as a director,” writes Boyd van Hoeij at Indiewire. “If On Tour was a 1970s-infused drama with long, backstage-set takes that felt like cinematic swirls of docu-fiction, The Blue Room, shot in the boxy Academy ratio, is a chamber drama in many ways, including literal ones.”
“The Blue Room is a pen portrait of an imperfect crime and its repercussions, a stylish thriller only limited by the paucity of its ambition,” writes John Bleasdale at CineVue.
Tom Christie at Thompson on Hollywood: “What feels profoundly human in Simenon, here feels merely sketchy; we’re left wanting more.”
Updates, 5/19: For Time‘s Richard Corliss, The Blue Room “earns admiration both for the mood it creates and for the melodramatic excesses it avoids.”
“Each edit is as sharp as the blade of a guillotine, and as unforgiving,” writes the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis.
Update, 5/23: “Amalric has crafted a fascinating and engaging film,” writes Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg at Twitch, “more for atmosphere and construction than content perhaps, but it can certainly stand in the grand French tradition of stories of crime and passion. But I don’t think the content is the point; it’s not about the what, but the how, and how memories are constructed and remembered after the passion is gone, and all that’s left is the pain.”
Update, 5/28: For the Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang, “the intentional mood of claustrophobia sometimes feels more like unintentionally choked, strained filmmaking. It’s a meticulous and tightly coiled cautionary tale, but it’s hard to imagine any of its characters having life outside the narrow confines of its stagy plot, or the edges of its carefully composed frames.”