|Arthur Le Houérou||Jérémy|
|Sandrine Kiberlain||Veronique Chambon|
|Directed by||Stéphane Brizé|
In the opening scene of Stéphane Brizé’s beautifully modulated romantic drama, the modestly educated Jean (Vincent Lindon) and his wife AnneMarie (Aure Atika) struggle to help their little boy Jérémy (Arthur Le Houérou) with his homework. At issue is the concept of the transitive verb. A transitive verb, they finally conclude, is a verb that takes an object.
Love is a transitive verb. And the object soon appears in the form of Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain), Jérémy’s teacher. When AnneMarie hurts her back at her job, Jean must pick up their son at school. He meets Miss Chambon, a tall, thin blonde with the jerky, wary alertness of a wild bird.
She tells him she is asking parents to come in and talk to the children about their jobs. Jean is a construction worker. Reluctantly he agrees. As he talks to the class, he’s nervous and self-conscious at first, but as he goes on his confidence grows. “When we arrive, there’s nothing there,” he tells the kids. “A few months later, there’s a house.”
It doesn’t take that long to lay the foundation for romance. Back at her apartment, Veronique has a drafty window. She asks Jean whom she should call for the repairs, and he offers to have a look at it. He tells her the window needs replacing, and offers to do the job. As he finishes, he notices a framed photo of Veronique as a concert violinist, and he asks her to play for him. She’s shy. “It’s been so long since I’ve played in front of anyone,” she demurs. “Turn your back,” he suggests. And she does. She plays Valse Triste, a haunting romantic melody by the Hungarian composer Ferenc von Vecsey, and the music awakens something dormant in Jean’s proletarian soul. Soon after he picks up his father (Jean-Marc Thibault) from his nursing home and accompanies him to the funeral parlor where the old man wants to pick out his own coffin. If Jean knew any Latin, the words tempus fugit would be rattling around in his brain to the strains of Valse Triste.
This sense of life as short and locked on an inexorable track with no turnoffs haunts most people at one time or another in their lives. When a chance encounter brings Jean and Veronique together again, and he helps her pick out paint for the new window, she invites him up to her apartment to lend him a recording of the von Vecsey piece. She puts on a CD, and they listen wordlessly, consumed with emotion as gorgeous music washes over and through them, and soon it is not just the throbbing, soaring strains of the violin that are doing the caressing.
But passion aroused is no guarantee of happily-ever-after. Veronique is from an intellectual Parisian family. Jean is a simple working class artisan, laboring at the same trade his father did, married to a simple, pretty woman, and he’s probably never ventured very far from the small provincial town where he has always lived. Family is important to Jean; Veronique has little to do with hers. Veronique can’t settle in any one place, she works as a substitute teacher, and moves every year or so (and yes, you may wonder, why is a woman in a short-term rental apartment replacing a window?)
There’s nothing new about this story. There are echoes of Brief Encounter, but the same echoes of irresistible longing roll down through centuries without end. Brizé’s delicate touch conjures associations with Eric Rohmer’s elegant stories of the exquisite agonies of love, with the eloquence of classical music here substituting for the verbal symphonies of Rohmer’s characters. Substitute other music and you have a country song,
Will the story have a happy ending? And what would be a happy ending? Once the serpent has slithered into the garden, the game is changed. AnneMarie is aware that something is up, but she can’t get her husband to talk about it.
Even happy endings sometimes have unhappy endings. Lindon and Kiberlain once were married, and they have a daughter together. It may be that this poignant real-life backstory gave them reservoirs of emotion on which to draw. Or maybe not.
In any case, both actors deliver the goods, wordlessly for the most part, as they tap the eloquence of a longing that only music can express.
© Text 2010 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be