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DRE #444020

Film Review

Mademoiselle Chambon

Life-changing events are not always dramatic. Sometimes they are quiet, like initial slow movement of a landslide. Sometimes those most affected do not immediately recognize what has happened. In Stephane Brize's Mademoiselle Chambon, Jean is a carpenter in a small town in Southern France, happily married, with a son, Jeremy. The film opens with the sound of jackhammers, and we see someone removing the main floor of a house. The noise is ear piercing. Then the film cuts to a family picnic, where Jean, his wife Anne-Marie, and their son are eating. The parents attempt to answer their son's questions about his grammar lesson, and it is clear that we are watching a loving, communicative family. Then a cut to Jean, visiting his father in an old age home, lovingly washing and messaging his father's feet. Jean is clearly a man devoted to his family. Then, Anne-Marie, working at her factory job, strains her back. So Jean has to pick up their son at his elementary school. He does, and meets Jeremy's teacher, a beautiful Veronique Chambon, played by Sandrine Kiberlain, who could have just stepped out of a Botticelli painting. Veronique has a parent speak to her class monthly to discuss their work, and asks Jean if he would talk about his work as a builder. He is a big hit with the class, and Veronique has noticed how loving he is with his son. She asks him if he knows someone who could repair her windows, and he volunteers. Jean arrives at her flat with the new windows, and spends most of the day installing them. Verionique is delighted. Jean has noticed photographs of Veronique playing a violin, and having remembered a violin piece that he loved at a concert, asks her if she would play a piece for him. She demurs at first, saying that she hasn't played in many years, and in any case, is embarrassed to play in front of people. But Jean suggests that she play with her back to him, which she does. He is awed and enchanted, and drives home with the sound of her music playing. Jean's life has been changed. I don't want to describe the story any further to avoid spoiling the unexpected twists, but none of the characters will remain as they were before.

Brize has directed this gem of a film, looking intently at two people whose lives are altered by a chance meeting. He has only made four films, and this may be his first American release, but he is clearly talented and his mastery of the medium is awesome. The story is straightforward, and not unfamiliar, with many of the scenes seemingly done in real time to emphasize the characters and their feelings. The construction work, including installation of the new window, is detailed, noisy, dusty, and has a verisimilitude that draws you in. Cuts are frequent and quick. The acting is superb, without drama, but with edgy glances, nervous looks, and uncomfortable body language that all say so much. Dialogue is sparse. There is also an interesting subtext of class differences; Veronique is from a well to do Parisian family. Mademoiselle Chambon is highly understated, a restrained, quiet film, but with powerful undercurrents. Yet the film is never slow or fails to engage. The story is that of relationships and feelings, but not a woman's fllm by any means. The music is absolutely gorgeous, yet also used sparingly. The film itself is like a beautifully crafted piece of music, and it's haunting images and mood will long linger. I loved it. Just opened at the Clay (which is staying open for a while, thank heaven).

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