Mathieu Amalric's brisk, agreeably nasty thriller The Blue Room turns on murders -- or does it? -- but rather than corpses, it's time and human connection that get memorably diced. Working from Georges Simenon's novel of a wrong man accused -- or is he the right man? -- co-writer/director/proudly nude star Amalric cuts everything to the quick: Most shots have the feel of still photos, the camera firmly planted, and the movie always hustles us to the next, back and forward in time, the effect part Resnais and part staccato Kodak slideshow.
Amalric and MVP director of photography Christophe Beaucarne composed in the comparatively cramped 1.33:1 ratio. This formalism is never mere trickery; instead, it ensures that our wrong-man hero — Amalric himself — feels penned in, especially in recurring scenes of interrogation.
The film opens with an elegantly composed quickie. The lovers are Julien (Amalric) and his mistress, Esther (Stéphanie Cléau, also Amalric's co-writer). The assignation is adulterous, of course, in the blue hotel room of the title, and it's interrupted by the approach of Esther's husband. "Where are you going?" Esther asks as Julien slips out, the question sad and threatening: Does she think he'll stick around for a confrontation -- and make this his real life? What might she do if he doesn't?
What exactly she or he might have done gets slowly teased out as the film vaults from Julien's recollections to him flubbing through the cops' questioning. The film slowly reveals exactly what crime he's accused of -- like Julien, we're left to sweat it, and like those cops we're left to wonder, as each exquisite slideshow shot reveals some new intricacy, just what he might be capable of.