Initially premiering at the Locarno Film Festival in 2010, the directorial debut of Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond, The Little Bedroom, at last gets a US theatrical release after four years. Picking up several accolades during its extended festival circuit tour, the film was Switzerland’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film back in 2011. Notably, it may be one of the last chances to see Michel Bouquet in a lead role (though he’s also in 2012’s celebrated Renoir, which France submitted for the same accolade in 2013). An intersection of two individuals during a period of increasing desperation, both refusing to accept an innate truth about the present state of their situations, it’s a quietly affecting and genuinely moving portrait of grief, reconciliation, and the cruel inevitably of aging.
Having given birth to a stillborn child only several months ago, Rose (Florence Loiret Caille) returns to work as a home care nurse perhaps a bit too soon. Her husband Marc (Eric Caravaca) is afraid to take on a new important contract that would force him to fly to New York for a short period because he doesn’t wish to leave her alone. At work, Rose immediately encounters a difficult patient, the diabetic and increasingly feeble Edmond (Michel Bouquet), a man whose estranged son is moving to the US and wants to have his father placed in a nursing home. Though at first at odds, the bitter Edmond and the grief stricken Rose form a bond, and she agrees not to report certain behaviors of Edmond’s. However, when he suffers a heart attack, Rose’s choices are questioned and she is placed back on sick leave. As Edmond recovers, his son sells his apartment, and upon being released from the hospital, Rose agrees that the old man can live secretly with her, reluctantly letting him stay in her deceased child’s bedroom.
The Little Bedroom is an excellent showcase for the talents of Florence Loiret Caille, an actress with quite a few notable credits often playing second fiddle to showier actresses (Melanie Laurent in The Day I Saw Your Heart; Beatrice Dalle in Trouble Every Day; Creton and Mastroianni in Bastards). Here, her grieving Rose is the film’s emotional anchor, her performance reminiscent of an Elsa Zylberstein in its isolated yet painfully apparent anguish evident in nearly every interaction.
The film’s main draw, of course, is the presence of Bouquet, himself giving a poignant turn as a man struggling valiantly to retain his autonomy. The film’s most tender moments transpire between Bouquet and Caille as they get to know each other, with Edmond providing Rose with the emotional outlet she needs to process grief she’s simply unable to communicate to her spouse. Though in a much less showy role, Caravaca (probably best known to US audiences for his excellent performance in Chereau’s Son Frere) is an underrated actor whose films are also often undistributed in the US.
His emotionally charged moments of escalating frustration with Caille feel incredibly natural and organic, especially as this concerns a scenario whose depths have already been plumbed tirelessly by a multitude of various other films. Understated and complex, The Little Bedroom is a quietly engaging drama.