Cinema Mishmash

A personal and random look at movies, past and present

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The Girl on the Train

October 9th, 2009 · No Comments

One of the nicest things about a film festival is the surprise delight, if you are bold enough to take a chance on a film and lucky enough for it to pay off. thegirlonthetrain1Not that choosing The Girl on the Train as the first film to see at the Chicago International Film Festival was that big of a risk. Director André Téchiné was known to me (although seeing only one of his several films hardly makes him familiar). And it is hard to go wrong with actress Catherine Deneuve. But the point is that I squeezed this one in, so to speak, prior to my attendance at the premier of John Woo’s Red Cliff, and the fact that this film won out over the other three in it’s general time slot had more to do with my inability to leave the office earlier and the length of the line at the festival box office.

The latter in fact caused me to miss the first few minutes of the film (which I absolutely hate), so I spent the first while in a a state of slight disorientation. Happily for me, that sensation was followed by that warm feeling of comfortable enjoyment followed by the minor delight of discovery. When I slid as gracefully as possible past the woman on the aisle and sat down in my seat, I was straining to recall the description of the film in the festival brochure. Within a moment I gave up trying and, gladly, turned full attention to the characters that were being presented to me. And for that I am lucky, since the festival description, more so than what I will attempt, reveals the eventual predicament in which young and beautiful slacker Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) eventually entangles herself.

Suffice it to say that Jeanne compensates for her insecurities with the occasional mild, innocuous lie or exaggeration. thegirlonthetrain2One such occasion is her meeting of Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a student and wrestler whose appearance and demeanor is mysterious in a way that teeters between sexy and dangerous. The two begin a relationship and eventually move in together, to the muted discomfort of Jeanne’s mother (Deneuve), a widow who prior to getting married, she reveals, was pursued by the successful Jewish lawyer (Michel Blanc) who appears on television one night while mother and daughter are having dinner.

Things go from bad to worse for Jeanne and her beau, but in such a way that is almost a relief to the mild but gnawing feeling throughout that something must go wrong. Is Franck up to no good? Is Jeanne’s reaction to her predicament going to worsen in some dreadful way? I can’t recall a film evoking such a real (but manageable) sense of worry, to the extent that at one point I was concerned that Jeanne perhaps didn’t properly fasten a baby gate in her mom’s house (where she operates a small day care). The baby gate, it turns out, has nothing to do with the story, whether it was fastened or not, but that was the degree to which Téchiné had made me suggestible to the dread of unknown consequence.  (To think that some people experience that in their daily lives.)

The film eventually resolves itself to be a study seeking to explain Jeanne’s eventual inexplicable behavior. And in that regard it strongly reminds me of the early films of Michael Haneke. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether we can explain or even completely understand what has happened. But for me, anyway, the delight comes from knowing what it feels like (good an bad) to go through something difficult and emerge in one piece, bruised but not beaten. That’s a difficult talk to achieve with emotional authenticity, and Téchiné and his actors really nail it.

Tags: Drama · Foreign Language · Review · Romance · Thriller

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