Monday, January 17, 2011

Unpublished Reviews: L'Homme du Train

[If "spoilers" bother you, read no further.]

Patrice Leconte's Man on the Train (2002) is a marvelous character study of two men who are thrown together in a French provincial city. A retired teacher of French poetry (Jean Rochefort) and a rather grizzled bank robber (Johnny Halliday) find themselves by chance in each other's company for a few days. Each is attracted to the other's life - the teacher to the imagined risk and adventure of bank robbery, the thief to the predictable warmth and comfort of belonging in one place and remaining there. Of course, each of them is equally bored and dissatisfied with his life, which makes their mutual envy ironic. The teacher begins to react against his stultifying world, jostling for freedom or, at the very least, the honesty to say what he thinks about his sister's bad marriage and what he wants from his mistress. (The mistress recognizes the bank robber as someone who exists to "stir the shit.")

Rochefort and Halliday eventually slouch toward their fates - Rochefort to a fatal triple bypass operation, Halliday from an ambush at the bank. In his review, Stanley Kauffmann mentioned "alternate endings," but there is only one, except that Leconte cross-cuts an apotheosis for the two - with Halliday ensconced in the old house, surrounded by its comforts and Rochefort departing on the train that had brought Halliday to the town, with the sound of whinnying horses and a smile on his face - as they both are expiring.

Once again, Jean Rochefort proves that he is one of the greatest film actors in the world. He first worked with Leconte in 1976 and was particularly memorable in Leconte's The Hairdresser's Husband (1990). In Man on the Train, I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Rochefort persuades her sister to admit that her husband is a "stupid prick." And the moment when Halliday shows Rochefort his reflection and tells him how precious we each become when we grow older.

23 July 2004

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