In other hands, Mademoiselle Chambon could have been a passionate, heady romance, but director Stéphane Brizé is not interested in playing it that way and the film is all the more effective as a result. The story brings together family man Jean (Vincent Lindon) and schoolteacher Véronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain) through a stroke of ill-fortune – when Jean's wife is hurt at work and cannot pick up their son from school – but the relationship that develops between them is built in small steps. After their first encounter, Véronique invites Jean to come back and speak to the class about his career as a construction worker and then asks him to drop by her house to look at a damaged window. All the time, this pair are edging closer together, but they do so in such a tentative, hesitant fashion. There are raging passions here, but they just happen to exist below the surface.
One of the catalysts that sparks their romance is music. Jean discovers that Véronique plays the violin and he gets her to perform for him, which she does so with her back turned as she is too nervous to perform for an audience. Music helps to build a bridge between them, with Jean being moved by her skill and Véronique appearing to emerge out of her timid self when she plays for him. Brizé's last film to be released here was Not Here to be Loved, another sensitively played romance in which two people were drawn together by a shared passion (in that instance, it was dance) and once again the director shows a remarkable knack for allowing scenes to breathe and develop in a manner that feels entirely organic. That same generosity is extended to the actors, who excel in their subtly drawn roles. Lindon is hugely impressive as an ordinary working-class character experiencing feelings he never anticipated, while delicate beauty Kiberlain manages to bring emotional depth to her character while retaining an intriguing unknowable quality.
Brizé expertly sustains the sense of longing and the erotic tension that exists between Jean and Véronique as well as creating authentic relationships between Jean and his wife (Aure Atika) and elderly father (Jean-Marc Thibault), but what's most impressive about Mademoiselle Chambon is how he does so much while saying so little. Words are less important in this film than looks and gestures, and Antoine Héberlé's camera is alive to the meaning that exists in the most fleeting of glances. The most refreshing aspect of Mademoiselle Chambon is its willingness to leave so much unsaid, but that understated approach is precisely what allows it to cut deeper than most screen romances.