Delicate performances hold interest in ‘Chambon’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, September 15, 2010 7:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

A halting, brief encounter is traced, ever so lightly, in “Mademoiselle Chambon,” a new French film about an attraction between two very different people.

The male half of the duo is Jean (played by Vincent Lindon), a builder, a married man who works with his hands all day. The woman is his son’s grade school teacher, Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain), who invites Jean to speak to the class on “What does your father do for work?” day.

Mme. Chambon is willowy and solitary, a shy type who seems drawn to the earthy Jean. We infer that she was once a promising violinist, but now moves from town to town as a long-term teacher for hire.

She asks Jean to repair a faulty window in her apartment, and falls asleep in the next room as he works. When he looks for her, we see his point-of-view as he peers through a half-open door at her sleeping form — and then the camera gently moves to regard her bare feet on the bed.

At that point, we suspect Jean is infatuated. Curiously enough, he seems at least as interested in Mme. Chambon’s artistic personality and her beautiful violin playing as in the woman herself.

What will happen between these two? Director Stephane Brize can’t entirely disguise how familiar this situation is and the story holds no great variations on the format.

While Aure Atika is very good as Jean’s unsuspecting wife, this movie depends on its two leads to generate most of the interest — especially given the quiet, placid style, where any eruption of feeling is going to be delayed for quite a while.

Intriguingly, Lindon and Kiberlain are married to each other in real life. Or at least they were; they have been separated for a couple of years, and I’m not clear about whether they were still together when they shot this film, which was released in France a year ago.

Lindon has a fine Everyman quality that he puts to use here, and we sense Jean’s frustration with the perfectly pleasant life he has enjoyed up to this point. It may be the first time he’s thought about whether there might be more to life than what he’s had in front of him.

Kiberlain is a gawky, beak-nosed, deadpan actress who presents a splendid contrast to Lindon’s style. This is a movie about people making tentative steps toward changing their lives, and suspense is generated by the possibility they might actually go through with something.

“Mademoiselle Chambon” isn’t truly distinctive in its overall impact, but these two delicately shaded performances carry it along. The ending was probably pre-ordained, but Lindon and Kiberlain keep you interested in the outcome anyway.

“Mademoiselle Chambon” 3 stars

Two delicately shaded performances make this somewhat familiar brief encounter worth seeing: an attraction grows between an earthy builder and his son’s ethereal, artsy grade-school teacher. Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain make the material come to quiet life. In French, with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter

Showing: Harvard Exit

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