Proving every stereotype about French art films correct, Mademoiselle Chambon is a maddeningly slow meditation on infidelity, with performances that can’t quite bridge the gap between the characters’ inner lives and what we see onscreen. Based on a novel by Eric Holder, Mademoiselle Chambon probably comes off as much richer on the page, where plenty of time can be spent describing characters’ thoughts and feelings. The movie replaces that with lots of longing stares and pregnant pauses, and what starts out as eager anticipation soon becomes tedious. By the time the movie’s central lovers finally consummate their passion, all the tension has dissipated.
Those lovers are the title character, Veronique (Sandrine Kiberlain), a schoolteacher in a small French town, and Jean (Vincent Lindon), the married father of one of her students. Jean and Veronique don’t so much flirt as wear each other down, expressing their lust with vague innuendoes and stolen glances. Jean has a loving wife, an adorable son and another kid on the way, but he obviously can’t resist the inexplicable charms of the bird-like Veronique. For her part, she’s just as conflicted, but clearly desperate to find something to hold onto after years of moving from town to town as a fill-in teacher. Kiberlain and Lindon convey some of these emotions, but much of the time the audience is left staring as intently as the characters, trying to figure out what these people are thinking, and why we should care.