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Small town building worker Jean (Vincent Lindon), his loving wife Anne-Marie (Aure Atika) and son Jérémy (Arthur Le Houérou) live a simple, happy life. When Jérémy's teacher Madamoiselle Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain) requests he volunteer as substitute teacher, Jean starts to fall for her delicate and elegant charm. His ordinary life between family and work starts to falter.

Review by Louise Keller:
An exquisitely beautiful film about longing, Mademoiselle Chambon uses cinematic language and music to paint an affecting canvas. Vincent Lindon's Jean faces a conundrum. As a builder, he recognises the importance of a solid foundation which he enjoys at home with his wife and son in their provincial home. But there's a sense of loneliness around him, aroused by the film's catalyst, Sandrine Kiberlain's Mademoiselle Chambon, the replacement teacher whose life is adrift.

This is the kind of adaptation that is risky; much of the impact of the narrative comes from thoughts, feelings, moods and pauses. Yet director Stéphane Brizé has adapted Eric Holder's novel with great subtlety and sublime understanding of the importance of timing. Much like music notation that relies on tempos as well as melodies, crescendos and accelerandos, Brizé conducts his film as he would a beautiful piece of music. The story is simple and nothing much happens on the surface, but plenty happens emotionally.

It all starts when Kiberlain's Veronique Chambon asks Jean (Lindon) to talk to the Saturday school class about his profession. We've already seen how meticulous he is at work in construction, as well as patient when it comes to his son and caring of his elderly father. When he fixes a broken window at Mademoiselle Chambon's apartment, he sees a photograph of her with a violin and we sense that when she plays for him, they are somehow connected by their emotions and sense of detachment to their surroundings. When they listen to music as they sit together, we feel their physical attraction. He takes her hand, touches her face, her arms wrap around him and their kiss is long and sweet - like the music. Music lingers from one scene into the next, so there's a lovely musical and poetic continuity that extends naturally.

Emotions and reactions are all underplayed. When Mademoiselle Chambon plays the violin at the all-important birthday party, there's a telling moment when Jean's wife (Aure Atika) shows a flicker of recognition of what is going on under the surface. Lindon and Kiberlain (married in real life) are both superb and the charisma they project on screen feels real. The film is poetic and beautiful, leisurely told and with great sensitivity. The music is great, too.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A delicate - too delicate - adaptation of Eric Holder's novel presents us with pauses as the prose equivalents of internal goings on, making the film ponderous and slight. The filmmakers are trying hard to capture the nuances, the subtleties of a small flutter in the life of three people, which hardly makes for strong cinema. The scale is too small, the investment in the characters likewise and the dynamics meagre. Our recognition of the turbulence caused by even the smallest intrusion of an attachment into the life of Jean's family - dependably played by Vincent Lindon - is not enough to make the experience satisfying.

Sandrine Kiberlain is effective as the school teacher who moves from town to town, year to year, unable to forge a relationship as a result, although superficially she has plenty to offer: reasonable looks, high intelligence and a talent for the violin. But what she seems to lack, as evidenced in director Stéphane Brizé's adaptation of the story, is a three dimensional personality. This is the fate of all the characters, which reduces the film's power to a whimper; hardly can we invest in their lives if we have no idea who they really are.

Aure Atika as Jean's wife has the least fulfilling role, with just one scene in which she gets to convey - by mere glances - that she has realised what it is that is making Jean so unusually fractious: an interest in the woman playing the violin at the birthday party.

It's typical of Brizé's approach, which relies on us imagining how the novel might describe his scenes, perhaps along these lines: 'He watches her silently from his car as she walks down the now empty afternoon street towards her apartment block, whose door will swallow her up in a moment. He feels a longing, perhaps, and an unresolved sadness about his own feelings, a distance ...' and so on.

The result is a film of frustrations and acknowledgements: we sense what the filmmakers are trying to do, but don't agree with their approach.

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Unfavourable: 1
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(France, 2009)

CAST: Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain, Aure Atika, Jean-Marc Thibault, Arthur Le Houérou, Bruno Lochet, Abdallah Moundy, Michelle Goddet

PRODUCER: Mileno Poylo, Gilles Sacuto

DIRECTOR: Stéphane Brizé

SCRIPT: Stéphane Brizé, Florence Vignon (novel by Eric Holder)


EDITOR: Anne Klotz

MUSIC: Ange Ghinozzi

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes



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