When fear and timidity (and being unsure of how we feel) make it difficult to talk, music can provide a more eloquent and precise language. Mademoiselle Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain) and Jean (Vincent Lindon) have this problem: they are both shy and tongue-tied, an unlikely match, yet music allows them to say the things that they themselves cannot say. They connect, and in an unusual way, they fall in love.
Véronique, ‘Mademoiselle Chambon’ is single, working as a Primary school teacher in a provincial town. She’s sensitive, quiet, reads alot, and is a talented violin player. One day she invites Jean, the father of one of her students, into class to talk about his job as a builder. Véronique finds Jean appealing and the convenience of a rotten window in her apartment means that she has a reason to employ him and to get to know him better. Jean fixes the window and notices a photo of a younger Véronique playing the violin. He asks her to play for him, which, after some anxiety that she would play badly, she does, but with her back turned to him. Jean is mesmerised and the two begin an intimate friendship.
Kiberlain’s compelling Mademoiselle Chambon consistently hesitates before she speaks, as if she’s scared of saying the wrong thing. These silences are a brave move by director Stéphane Brizé, resembling ‘rests’ in a piece of sheet music, rather than awkward, discordant moments. Alongside Kiberlain’s controlled, aching emotion, they are as much a part of the film’s music as Edward Elgar’s Salut d’Amour and Franz von Vecsey’s Valse Triste, played by Mademoiselle Chambon on the violin.
Jean’s torment and confusion is clear and fragile, and Lindon plays him with great sympathy and tenderness. He is not unhappy in his marriage and he is not a man who wants to cheat on his wife. Brizé is not directing a morality tale here. Instead, Jean is compelled by Mademoiselle Chambon and captivated by the music she plays. The music seeks out a need and desire in him that he struggles to understand.
Brizé layers the soundtrack and Lindon and Kiberlain’s performances with imagery that is close to visual poetry. Windows and doorways are motifs, never too clunky or too frequent, always reflecting Jean and Madame internal worlds, and the difficult and unusual intimacy they share.
Director: Stéphane Brizé
Helen Van Kruyssen