André Téchiné lets viewers fill in a great many gaps. This is typically a merit of French cinema, and a welcome alternative to the American tradition of force-feeding plot. But there’s a fine line between tantalizing the audience and stringing it along, and Téchiné crosses it one too many times, shifting focus and mood in ways both needless and spastic. The director and co-writer means to surprise and provoke, and sometimes he does, but he also frustrates.
Adapted from a play by Jean-Marie Besset and based on actual events that incited a French media frenzy in 2004, the film concerns Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), an unmotivated, redheaded 20-something who fancies rollerblading and ultimately cooks up an elaborate lie about being the victim of an anti-Semetic hate crime. That development doesn’t materialize until the first hour has wrapped, and the earlier portion, which mainly follows the non-Jewish Jeanne’s doomed romance with a shady aspiring wrestler (Nicolas Duvauchelle), neither prepares us for it nor provides Jeanne with sufficient depth so we may know or care why she turns to such behavior.
The most we’re offered are vague chapter stops (“Circumstances” and “Consequences”) and coverage of similar crimes in casually integrated newscasts watched by Jeanne and her widowed mother, Louise (Catherine Deneuve), and discussed by the dysfunctional family members of a Jewish attorney (Michel Blanc), who Louise knows through her late husband.
The subtle manner in which the characters’ stories connect provides a certain composure, as does the naturalistic acting, but any larger statement Téchiné, is trying to make is lost in the telling.
And while “Train” is a ride worth taking if just for Dequenne’s compelling presence, Deneuve’s sly performance quirks and a smattering of handsome scenery and formal techniques, it has a vexing tendency to fly off the rails.
The Girl on the Train
Two-and-a-half reels out of four
Opens tomorrow at the Ritz at the Bourse
Nancy Meyers doesn’t exactly stand out as a tasteful, graceful screenwriter, but she’s an essential filmmaker, presenting entertaining mainstream movies about and for the oft-ignored 50-plus crowd. Her latest, the freewheeling romp “It’s Complicated,” stars Meryl Streep as a well-to-do California restaurateur who falls into an affair with her married ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), while also being wooed by atimid architect (Steve Martin). “Complicated” has its flaws, but its extremely funny, and proves a romantic comedy can work without bright young things in the leading roles.