The Green Room is a thoughtful, reverent adaptation of Henry James’ The Altar of the Dead. Julien Davenne (François Truffaut) is a lonely, disillusioned widower who writes for The Globe, an obsolete, nearly defunct newspaper (with a target audience of elderly people, its subscription base is literally dying). From his methodical, dispassionate demeanor, it is obvious that he is sleepwalking through life. He is, in fact, emotionally dead (Truffaut’s cold, deadpan performance is intriguing to watch). He spends his evenings looking at slides of war casualties, and sitting alone in a green room, where he has carefully assembled his late wife’s possessions. He attempts to console his recently widowed friend, Gerard, by telling him to channel his grief into serving his wife’s memory: “The dead only belong to us if we agree to belong to them.” He is later appalled to learn that Gerard has become involved with another woman. When Julien meets a pensive, charming auction secretary named Cecilia Mandel (Nathalie Baye) who has experienced a similar loss, they decide to build a memorial in the bombed ruins of an abandoned church to honor their lost loved ones (note the effect of a similar act in Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games). The haunting tragedy of the story lies in the characters’ motives for the shrine. Cecilia envisions the memorial as a means of achieving healing and closure. To Julien, it is the culmination of his dedicated service to the memory of the dead. Having completed his life’s work, his reason for existence is lost. The Green Room is a touching, cerebral film about grief, guilt, and survival.
François Truffaut uses a color palette that is washed and pale to set the thematic tone of the film (similar techniques are used in Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice). The opening battle scenes, filmed in black and white with blue tint, are almost monochromatic. The house, including the commemorative green room, appears dark, cold, and uninviting in tepid, washed colors. Julien is pale, unremarkable, and relatively expressionless. The effect is brooding and somber, a reflection of Julien’s morbid preoccupation. The Green Room is a devastating portrait of a man consumed by such profound grief that he is incapable of experiencing the beauty and joy of life. It is a highly disturbing and provocative film about a man’s self-destructive myopic obsession with loss and mortality.
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