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2014年11月23日 星期日

La chambre bleue (The Blue Room) (藍房情殺案)

What is truth? Is it objective? Is truth to be decided by what "actually" or what "really" happened? What is seen as recorded by the instruments of scientific investigation? As recounted by different witnesses ? Are witnesses always honest? Can witnesses lie for various reasons? Even if the witnesses are honest, is their ability to recall details always accurate and reliable? Is our memory always to be trusted? Even if there's no problem with the witness's ability to recall, can what is accurately recalled by a witness be clearly and unambiguously reduced into words? What are the limits of language? These are the kinds of questions which surface again and again in our mind as we hear on the screen what is being related as a magistrate inquire into a murder whose victim we never actually saw and the happening of which is initially shrouded in mystery. All we see are the expressions on the face of one of the suspects, Julien Gahyde (Mathieu Amalric, who co-wrote and directed the film La chambre bleue (The Blue Room) (藍房情殺案 ) and the replies he gives to various question intended to probe at the elusive "truth", based upon a 1955 novel by a well-known detective story writer George Simenon. At the end of the film, Julien is convicted of joint murder of Monsieur Despierre, husband of Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau) and  Julien’s wife, Delphine (Léa Drucker).

At the start of the film, we witness a steamy love-making scene in which we see a drop of blood falling on a piece of tissue. The blood fell from the lower lip of Julien. Esther asked him if it hurt. He said it didn't matter. The next thing he knew, he was handcuffed by the French gendarmes and brought before a magistrate during an inquisitorial procedure in which the magistrate posed to Julien many questions about the details of what is found by various reports by different witnesses including a post office clerk, a lady neighbor and his colleague at work. Before answering the questions, we are shown various flash backs of Julien to various scenarios as he did his best (?) to recall the details of what happened and either affirmed or denied them. He received many letters and notes from Esther which he would always tear or burn and then throw into the river under a bridge but denied having ever received them. In two of the recalled scenes from that blue room in the suburban hotel where they were having the passionate affair, Esther asked Julien on two separate occasions, "Could you spend the rest of your life with me?" to which Julien replied "yes" but without any enthusiasm or conviction and when asked  "If I were suddenly free, could you free yourself too?” to which he made an ambiguous reply, pretending not to understand the question.

The autopsies of M. Despierre and Julien's Delphine reveal that both died from poison and in the case of Delphine from a bottle of jam made by Esther's mother which Julien brought home for her. Did he know that the jam was poisoned when he brought it home? He seemed happily married with a daughter and a good job and did not have any specially urgent reason why he should do so because Delphine appeared either ignorant of the affair or if she did, did not wish to make any big issue out of it. What is the truth about the matter? Shall we ever know because the film seems to be presented largely from the point of view of Julien only. Whatever the truth might be, at the end of the film, the jury convicted both and the judge pronounced a term of life imprisonment for each. Upon hearing the sentence, Esther who had a crush on Julien since high school 20 years ago, remarked that even the sentence could not separate their fate.

This directorial debut by Mathieu Amalric is a cool, analytic film and like a good detective novel, the truth only came out bit by bit through the questions and answers by the inquisitorial magistrate and Julien and we are always kept in suspense about the fate of Julien until the very end. A French style Rashomon about the mystery surrounding the culpability and eventual fate of Julien, the pivot of the movie. We see a man accused of a crime, how he is judged first by the police, then by the investigating magistrate, his defense attorney and the prison psychiatrist and then by the jury. But was he a knowing accomplice to both of or just one of the murders? We are left questioning, even at the end of the film. But to Esther, it's a question not of life or death whether Julien is prepared to go all the way with her in his reply to those question posed to him whilst the two naked bodies were entwined in bed in that blue room. I like the music, specially composed for the film by Gregoire Hetze, which simultaneously heightened tension and yet somehow helps to give the grim interrogation and effortful answers of Julien a certain esthetic distance.