Vanishing Act – Rediscovering ‘The Mystery of the Yellow Room’/Le Mystère de la Chambre Jaune (France 2003 – 118 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - January 13, 2015
Vanishing Act – Rediscovering ‘The Mystery of the Yellow Room’/Le Mystère de la Chambre Jaune (France 2003 – 118 mins)

A terrific version of Gaston Leroux’s classic 1907 locked room whodunit, ‘The Mystery of the Yellow Room’ is a cosy countryside crime thriller which is both witty and thoroughly engaging. For somebody who has never been the biggest watcher of detective stories, this one had me hooked from the very first scene.

Late one night at the Château du Glandier, scientist’s daughter Mathilde Stangerson (Sabine Azéma) is attacked in her bedroom. With few clues and no additional means of entry other than the locked door, the police are soon baffled. Meanwhile, investigative reporter Joseph Rouletabille (Denis Podalydès) and his photographer sidekick Sainclair (Jean-Noël Brouté) are also called in and, using their deductive powers of reasoning, attempt to solve the seemingly impossible puzzle.

‘The Mystery of the Yellow Room’ was a very pleasant discovery for me as I was unfamiliar with this age-old story that had already been filmed at least three times before. I could understand its mass popularity as it has all the ingredients of an audience-pleaser, employing both romance and murder among its classic central mystery. What also lifts the movie is the wonderful acting by the terrific French ensemble. Michael Lonsdale, familiar to me from his excellent work in ‘The Day of the Jackal’ (’73) and as Drax in ‘Moonraker’ (’79), plays Mathilde’s concerned scientist father, while Sabine Azéma (so memorable in 1984’s ‘A Sunday in the Country’) is very convincing as the would-be victim. Denis Podalydès and Jean-Noël Brouté make a great double-act a’ la Holmes and Watson, and Pierre Arditi is also first-rate as the shady Inspecteur Larson.

Writer-director Bruno Podalydès does a great job here, and I particularly loved the superbly imaginative title sequence involving a toy train travelling through the grounds of the country estate. Podalydès used much of the same cast for his award-winning 2005 follow-up ‘The Perfume of the Lady in Black’, including the lead actor from here, his brother Denis. The climactic reveal is expertly handled and it’s fascinating to see how the central crime was pulled off and, when seen from this angle, you actually believe how the outwardly impossible could be committed.

The marvellous cinematography was by Christophe Beaucarne who went on to photograph Anne Fontaine’s stunning 2009 biopic ‘Coco Before Chanel’, starring Audrey Tautou. The fitting score was by the renowned Philippe Sarde whose vast credits include ‘La Grande Bouffe’ (’73), ‘Tess’ (’79), and the award-winning ‘Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud’ (’95).

With red-herrings, family secrets and wrongful arrests, ‘The Mystery of the Yellow Room’ is a stunning looking movie filled with adventure, shocks and genuine surprises. It’s a fast moving period thriller that is faultlessly played by the entire cast. A magical movie in more ways than one!

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