Jeanne is a young woman, striking but otherwise without qualities. Her mother tries to get her a job in the office of a lawyer, Bleistein, her lover years ago. Jeanne fails the interview but falls into a relationship with Franck, a wrestler whose dreams and claims of being in a legitimate business partnership Jeanne is only too happy to believe. When Franck is arrested, he turns on Jeanne for her naivety; she's stung and seeks attention by making up a story of an attack on a train. Is there any way out for her? In a subplot, Bleistein's grandson, Nathan, prepares for his bar mitzvah and, through an encounter with Jeanne, experiences intimations of manhood.Written by
There have been three films and two novels with the title THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. (There is also a novel called GIRL ON A TRAIN.) The earlier novel was written by my friend Peter Whitehead, but it has never been filmed. The second novel was made into the third film. Of the three films, this was the first, though its title in French was very different, namely LA FILLE DU RER (THE GIRL OF THE R.E.R.). For those unfamiliar with the underground systems of Paris, there are two. The first is the well-known Metro, which goes short hops a few minutes apart. The second is called the R.E.R. It goes for long distances between a few main stops and extends way out to the far suburbs, being a genuine rapid transit system for commuters. So the girl of this story is not really on a train per se, she is merely on a commuter service which starts overground and goes underground when it reaches the centre of Paris. Four years later, a less well known film of the title was made in America, with its action commencing at New York's Grand Central Station. And in 2016, a British film of this title was made with Emily Blunt, which has had a considerable commercial success and is the best known of the three. This one is a brilliantly made film by that old pro, André Téchiné. He directs films as effortlessly as water flows under a bridge. But that is not to say that the film is wholly satisfying. The script is very good, but the story conception is somewhat perplexing, with insufficient background information. Hence it lacks focus, unlike the cameras.The director presumably must have wanted to make a film which remained enigmatic and suggestive, leaving us guessing about the layers beneath. That must have been his intention, and in that he succeeded. But is that really effective? The central character in the film is a very young woman, really still a girl, who is 'all mixed up', to say the least of it. No effort is made to get us to sympathise with her, nor is any made to get us to dislike her. We are meant to be puzzled observers. It is clear from the very beginning that she is wilful, foolish, pig-headed, and astonishingly stupid. She has a vague childlike charm, but she also can snarl and pout at the drop of a hat. Her father was an Army officer who was killed in battle in Afghanistan when she was 5, and she has been raised by a rather aloof mother, played by France's leading ice queen, Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve shows a surprising amount of diffused and unfocused sympathy, clearly trying hard to love her child but finding it difficult. The daughter tells her very sinister drug-dealer boyfriend that she and her mother are so close that they are 'inseparable', but that is merely one of the girl's many disembodied fantasies. She wants to be loved but is not at all discriminating about who might do so. In other words, she is a lost young soul wandering the world, dressed only in a smile. The girl is played to perfection by an extremely talented young Belgian actress, Émilie Dequenne, who at 28 looked and behaved younger. She played Valentine in the 2006 film of LE GRAND MEAULNES. The girl inexplicably goes to pieces and fabricates a sensational tale of having been assaulted by anti-Semites while travelling on the RER. Before boarding it, she had cut herself with a knife to make a gash on her face, cut off part of her hair, and drawn swastikas (as it happens, the wrong way round) on her stomach. She then goes to the police and claims this was all done to her by neo-fascist yobs. This causes a scandal in the press and even the President of the Republic issues a statement of sympathy for her. But then her story unravels when it is realized that she made it all up. She does not appear to realize why she did this, nor can anyone else figure it out. She is not even Jewish. The story is far more complicated than this, and involves penetrating studies of several characters, resulting in a tapestry portrait of some intersecting lives and groups of people constituting a haphazard milieu, all of whom are in their own ways deeply perplexing. So I suppose the director wanted us to know just how strange everyone really is. I believe him.
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