The Blue Room delivers suspense, sex, foul play 

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The Blue Room tantalizes with mystery. We begin in a secluded hotel room as a succession of fragmented images reveals a man and a woman, nude, their bodies entwined in an illicit tryst. There is some seemingly idle pillow talk, and then a small drop of blood falls on a white sheet. The woman has bitten the man’s lip during the throes of passion.

We then jump ahead in time to find the man, an agriculture equipment salesman named Julien (Mathieu Amalric, The Grand Budapest Hotel) being interrogated by police who appear to know the lovers’ intimate conversation.

What’s going on? Something bad has happened, the particulars of which do not begin to crystallize until midway through the film. Based on a 1964 novel by Belgian writer Georges Simenon, The Blue Room poses questions that lead to more questions — not all of which are answered. The movie opens Friday at AMC Quail Springs 24, 2501 W. Memorial Road.

Its very structure is a puzzle. Amalric, who directed and co-wrote the picture in addition to starring in it, has designed a nonlinear pretzel of a mystery in which details both telling and innocuous receive equal weight.

As an exasperated Julien tells the French detective who questions him mercilessly, “Life is different when you live it and when you go back over it after.”

At the center of it are Julien Gahyde and his mistress Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau, who co-scripted with Amalric). They meet each Thursday at the titular hotel room.

Esther, a tall, willowy brunette whose husband is a well-to-do pharmacist, muses on a life in which she and Julien could be together all the time. Julien finds it an interesting suggestion, but he already has a loving wife (Léa Drucker) and young daughter (Mona Jaffart).

Whether their respective spouses know about the affair remains blurry, and it’s an uncertainty that raises the tension level. Delphine, Julien’s wife, studies her husband’s face while her own appears staggered by melancholy. Julien tries alleviating the mood by suggesting a vacation at the beach. It doesn’t help much.

He engages in some horseplay in the waves, but it results in Delphine struggling to breathe and Julien looking like he has a murderous side.

Does he?

The movie certainly looks terrific. It simmers with sex and dread. Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne (Coco Before Chanel) constructs painterly images within the square confines of a 1:33:1 aspect ratio.

A swelling music score recalls the Hitchcock films scored by the great Bernard Herrmann.

Despite such style, however, The Blue Room never quite delivers on its promise. Suspense cannot live on ambiguity alone.

Print Headline: An affair to remember, The Blue Room delivers — mostly — suspense, sex and foul play.

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Phil Bacharach

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