Thursday, February 4, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
Directed by André Téchiné
Released January 22, 2010

Few films are fortunate enough to find a starlet whose mere presence serves to electrify and enliven the entire film, where the surrounding story might as well be inconsequential because the lead performance is so captivating. The feat is even more impressive when the film and actress in question are French, a culture where charm might be very present but politeness often is not. The plot in “The Girl on the Train” is hardly inconsequential; in fact it’s anything but. Its surprising and vivid storytelling is entirely fascinating.

Émilie Dequenne, who has been actively appearing in almost two dozen French films over the last decade, is the star whose radiance and beauty, coupled with a disdainful attitude towards productivity, serve to make her an extraordinarily enticing protagonist, Jeanne. She has no strong desire to find work, since her only motivation is being able to afford an annual vacation to Italy. She spends her days rollerblading, and it’s only when a man skates up behind her and begins to woo her that her life takes a turn for the more volatile and interesting.

The film features an excitable opening while the initial credits roll, with a train racing through a dark tunnel accompanied by a lively marching anthem. It’s like a metaphor for Jeanne’s life, a constant certainty that goes so fast while she’s on a high and then slows to nothing, with the emergence back into the daylight marking the end of the brief rush accompanied by the uncertain darkness. A deep, meditative look into Jeanne’s eyes conveys her yearning for more and her desire to find something to interrupt her mundane existence.

There is a great parallel story that intertwines with Jeanne’s, and that’s the story of her mother’s relationship with a famous anti-Semitism lawyer and, by association, his own family dynamic and problems as his grandson approaches Bar Mitzvah age. Two fantastic performers have the wonderful opportunity to play parts, the legendary Catherine Deneuve as Jeanne’s protective matriarch and Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz (The Band’s Visit). Michel Blanc and Mathieu Demy are also outstanding as grandfather and grandson, respectively. The ensemble cast contributes to a powerful and haunting film that has much to say about crime, motivations, intent, and hatred, as expressed through the outlet of one young woman whose life took a far more tumultuous turn that she might ever have expected. This is French independent filmmaking at its best, and a small film that deserves to soar above the radar.


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