The Blue Room

Georges Simenon wrote more than 200 books, from which at least 50 films have been adapted. One of the most original is Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room, coming in under 80 minutes and without a single extraneous shot in it.

Showing at the conclusion of the BFI London Film Festival, it stars Amalric (who also cowrote and directed) and Stéphanie Cléau — who wrote the screenplay with him — as two married adulterers who hire a provincial hotel room to slake their lust.

As usual with Simenon, such behaviour has terrible consequences. There is a murder and Amalric’s Julien, whose life has previously been so easy to compromise, is the chief suspect. But can he really be the murderer? He hardly knows himself.

The film darts backwards and forwards in time: his many fibs and the judicial questioning are in the first half. Even the sequence when he explains to his wife how he bit his lip (passionate love-making is the true culprit) takes place long before the story’s conclusion.

All this could be too complicated for some but Amalric’s film-making is clear as well as stylish. And his performance as the desperate man is eloquence itself, while Cléau (Esther) contributes a suitably erotic portrait as the object of his desire. For so short a film, a great deal is packed in.

Simenon’s frowning sense of right and wrong, and the inevitable consequences of falling prey to lust, is magnified by a film that never loses its grip. Simenon would be proud of its efficiency and its heady combination of thriller and love story.