The Girl on the Train (La fille du RER)


The Girl On The Train

Emilie Duquenne & Catherine Deneuve react to the news that Herman Cain is making set visit.

(2009) Drama (Strand) Emilie Dequenne, Michel Blanc, Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Demy, Ronit Elkabetz, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Jeremy Quaegebeur, Djibril Pavade, Alain Cauchi, Amer Alwan, Melaine Leconte, Raphaeline Goupilleau. Directed by Andre Techine

 

What motivates people to lie? To deliberately mislead people, to say that something is so that isn’t? Often, we don’t know ourselves why we do it – generally it is to attract some kind of attention, the kind that makes us feel better about ourselves. But what happens when it gets out of hand?

Jeanne (Duquenne) is the sort of girl who floats through life like a leaf in a stream. She rollerblades through Paris with her headphones on, her music shutting out everything and everyone. She lives at home with her mother Louise (Deneuve). Louise runs a day care center, and gently urges her daughter to get a job, which Jeanne is less enthusiastic about. Louise contacts an old lover, Samuel Bleistein (Blanc) who is now a high-powered lawyer in Paris to set up an interview for Jeanne but that goes disastrously. Jeanne’s resume is rather thin and her diffident responses reveal that she doesn’t have a whole lot of enthusiasm either.

What she is enthusiastic about is Franck (Duvauchelle) who is training for the French Olympic Wrestling team. Franck is a bit of a bad boy which appeals to Jeanne, and when a shopkeeper-friend of Franck’s ask him to move into his apartment above the shop so that he can watch over his stuff while he is away on an extended trip, Jeanne moves in there with him.

However, things go horribly wrong there, causing Jeanne to move back home and her frustration and anger boils over. When she shows up at home with a swastika carved in her stomach, some of her hair cut off and her clothes in tatters, she tells her shocked mum that a group of North Africans had accosted her on the train and believing her a Jew because she was carrying the lawyer’s card, beaten her up.

The incident becomes a cause célèbre in France with the media making Jeanne the center of attention of a nation. The attention makes Jeanne uncomfortable and Louise thinks she knows why – she believes that the attack never happened and that her daughter made it up out of whole cloth. Why, she does not know but she does know that the truth will come out eventually, as it usually does.

Director Techine is a veteran of French cinema who has some marvelous films to his credit, My Favorite Season among them. This, his most recent film to date, is based on an actual incident that occurred in France. However, it isn’t the anti-Semitism that really is the focus of this story but of the girl, the one who was the center of the controversy. Why she did what she did (and there are no real answers given, at least none that make any  sense) and how it affected two families – her own and the Bleisteins, whose grandson Nathan (Quaegebeur) is about to have his bar mitzvah and is dealing with problems between his estranged parents Alex (Demy) and Judith (Elkabetz). Throughout the movie the emphasis is on the family dynamics, which is to Techine’s mind (and mine to be honest) the more interesting subject.

Duquenne is an able actress and despite being 30ish manages to play much younger very effectively. She gives Jeanne a waif-like quality as well as that diffidence I mentioned earlier. Jeanne is crowned by charming curly hair, but it is an empty crown – she seems happiest when she is tuned out from everything and tuned in to herself.

Deneuve is the grand dame of French actresses. Her compassionate heart is Louise’s most striking feature; Louise is a loving parent but somehow seems to love her daycare charges a little more than her own daughter who baffles her in many ways. That is often the way when it comes to mothers and daughters. Louise doesn’t know how to reach Jeanne which is also something parents wrestle with. It’s not Deneuve’s most striking performance but it is a realistic one.

The Girl on the Train is one of those movies that seems a bit unremarkable when first you see it but the more you think about it, the better it gets. Like good French wine, it ages not only in the barrel but in memory as well and we all know how much age benefits good wine, no matter the vintage.

WHY RENT THIS: A capably executed jewelry heist film that brings to mind The Bank Job albeit in a stuffier vein. Michael Caine is, as always, impeccable. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No new ground is broken here. Moore never really gives me a sense of who her character is.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and a bit of bad language, as well as some adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Caine’s grandfather had a similar job to Hobbs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $305,140 on a $9M production budget; the movie was a box office failure.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Underworld Awakening

Strayed (Les Egares)


Nobody does sensual like French cinema.

Nobody does sensual like French cinema.

(Wellspring) Emmanuelle Beart, Gaspard Ulliel, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Clemence Meyer, Samuel Labarthe, Jean Fornerod. Directed by Andre Techine

In times of war, ordinary people are sometimes caught up in extraordinary situations, leading them to do things they never would have considered in simpler times. When the world turns upside down, we sometimes find ourselves relying on those we might not have otherwise.

Odile (Beart) is a schoolteacher and mother who has already given a great deal to the war. Her husband was killed early on during the German invasion of France. With the Nazis knocking on the doorstep of Paris, thousands of terrified citizens flee for the countryside and what they thought was safety. Odile and her children, teenaged Philippe (Leprince-Ringuet) and young Cathy (Meyer) are driving down a refugee-choked road when German bombers suddenly, viciously drop bombs on the road and gun down survivors. The three barely escape and watch their car get annihilated. When Philippe panics and begins to run, he is hauled down by a young man with a shaven head who we later find out is named Yvan (Ulliel), saving him from the guns. Yvan leads the family into the woods.

After spending the night in the woods, a new experience for the children who up to then had lived a privileged existence, Yvan discovers a large villa in the woods. It has been abandoned by the owners but otherwise is perfectly habitable, with food stores, running water and electricity. Yvan wants to break in and stay in relative safety there; Odile, with her middle class standards, abhors the idea and urges them to find a village or someplace where they can stay. Yvan convinces her that the children need rest and a place to clean up and have a meal. He essentially winds up breaking in whether she likes it or not. Soon, they are living there as a family.

However it is a dysfunctional family. Odile is contemptuous of Yvan, thinking he is wild and uncouth. However, she recognizes that without him, they would be unable to survive as he supplies them with food when the stores left behind run out. At first she wants to hike to a nearby village but when that nearly turns into disaster, she retreats back to the villa, there to stay.

For Yvan’s part, he is attracted to the older woman in a sexual way. The other children look up to Yvan as a big brother, perhaps even a surrogate father – the latter role Yvan is all too happy to play. As the family begins to rely on Yvan more and more, Odile becomes oddly attracted to him. It’s as if she is reverting to a more primal mode, wanting to keep a provider close at hand by any means necessary.

The idyll, as complicated as it already is, becomes more so with the arrival of two French soldiers. Yvan, feeling threatened, wants to kill them so that they don’t report the squatters to the authorities. Odile is glad to have the gentle Robert (Labarthe) for company and the carefree Georges (Fornerod) as well. However, under the surfaces of each member of this drama are secrets unbeknownst to one another. When they rely on each other for their very survival, what will become of them when those secrets begin to emerge?

Beautifully photographed in the area around Castres, France, Techine brings an idyllic quality to the country home and its inhabitants. The horrors and realities of war are far away from this secluded spot. Beart is wonderful as Odile, a widow coping with the loss of her husband and increasingly vulnerable in a harsh world. When a life preserver is thrown her way, her instincts tell her to resist but inevitably she reverts to a different state of mind, one of the primal urges of women early in human history in which finding a provider was paramount, so being attractive to those providers became a survival skill. Odile doesn’t even realize that she is operating on this basis.

Ulliel, who appeared in the excellent Brotherhood of the Wolf, has a very complicated role to take on, and he handles it extremely well. Yvan has grown up on his own and lacks many social graces and even basics, such as reading and writing. He is often unsure how to act or react in the presence of a beautiful woman, and his own raging hormones begin to guide him. He is alternately cruel and kind, uncaring and helpful, angry and hurt. In other words, like most teenagers, he is going through a maelstrom of emotions, sometimes several at once.

Leprince-Ringuet is also impressive as Philippe, who is a few years younger than Yvan yet worships him as a hero. He is desperately searching for a role model now that his father is gone and he uses Philippe to fill that void, perhaps unaware of the consequences of that to his mother. When Yvan casually rejects him, he turns on Yvan as only a hurt, rejected young boy can.

The family’s struggle to find food and shelter without being detected by Nazis or by the police of the Vichy government lend an air of palpable suspense that permeates the film. While not an overt thriller, it nonetheless carries elements of that genre and integrates it nicely into the overall feel of the movie; the idyll being one that doesn’t belong to them and one they know they must pay for eventually.

The movie does move very slowly towards its climax, and is somewhat talky in places. I love good dialogue as much as the next guy, but sometimes silence and circumstance can be a far more effective tool in getting the story across.

As good as Beart is here, when she turns the corner from being suspicious of Yvan to being attracted to him, the emotional shift doesn’t feel genuine. I understand how it could happen but the writers and Beart failed to make the connection onscreen. I think the movie would have benefited had they done so.

Other than those quibbles, this is a solid movie. Lately I’ve found myself having a great deal of affection for French cinema, and while this isn’t the finest example of it out there, it is nonetheless worth seeing if you can find it (I know it is available on Netflix, which is where I found it). I urge you to watch it with a good bottle of wine to wash it down with – French cinema, like French wine, alters perception in subtle ways.

WHY RENT THIS: Masterful performances by Beart, Ulliel and Leprince-Ringuet bring the tensions of an untenable situation to life. Gorgeous cinematography of the French countryside that will gladden the soul in an otherwise bleak tale. Director Techine creates a marvelous air of tension that permeates the film.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The sexual attraction between Odile and Yvan, while natural on his end, doesn’t make as much sense on hers. The movie can be a bit too talky in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Some terrifying wartime violence, smoking, drinking, nudity and sex between a teenaged boy and an adult woman. This is definitely for adult audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is based on the novel “Le Garçon aux Yeux Gris” by French novelist Gilles Perreault.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Nobel Son