French style love and laughter


Look for laughter, love, and tears in “Mademoiselle Chambon,” playing Saturday, March 3, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in a screening sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society. But avoid a reality check, unless you have a highly romantic worldview.

In César Award-winning “Mademoiselle Chambon,” based on a novel by author Eric Holder, director Stéphane Brisé creates a story about an unlikely romance between a construction worker and his son’s teacher with cinematic and narrative finesse. Lots of crosscutting and sound overlaps, as well as deft storytelling and acting, demonstrate that viewers will find themselves in good hands.

The movie opens with the surprising and annoying rat-a-tat-tat of a jackhammer, wielded by Jean the house builder. Played by a hunky Vincent Lindon, Jean is a devoted family man but no intellectual giant, revealed by the difficulty he and his wife Anne-Marie (Aure Atika) have helping their son Jérémy (Arthur Le Houérou) with the boy’s sentence-parsing homework in one of the early scenes.

After Anne-Marie suffers a minor back injury at her factory job, Jean must take her place in a conference with Jérémy’s teacher, Véronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain), no slouch in the looks department. Jean’s soulful eyes and Véronique’s delicately seductive body language telegraph the attraction between father and teacher.

Véronique invites Jean to give a talk about his job to Jérémy’s class, and he’s a big success. Next she hires him to fix a drafty set of terrace doors. After Jean notices Véronique’s violin, he summons up his courage and asks her to play for him.

Such simple narrative ploys propel the story in very satisfying ways. Jean and Véronique make clear their reluctance to pursue a liaison, and Jean seems quite loyal to his wife. Will these constraints stop them? “Mademoiselle Chambon” keeps the viewer guessing.

In the meantime, the film shares an appealing slice of French working-class life with the viewer. Less is presented about the world of Véronique, who appears to be some form of substitute teacher, roving from one school to another across France. Certainly she comes from a more cultured background than the hardy Jean, implying — if more innocuously than not — that old-fashioned classist impulses may drive their romantic attraction.

No matter. “Mademoiselle Chambon” leaves the viewer with a satisfying aftertaste.

“Mademoiselle Chambon,” Saturday, March 3, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. More information at French with English subtitles. Not rated.