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The Girl on the Train

French drama skims around an anti-Semitic hoax

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André Téchiné's latest film is adapted from a play, which itself was based on actual recent events. At the crux of the drama is a feckless act by a young French woman: Though not Jewish, she claims to be the victim of an anti-Semitic attack, while riding on a suburban Paris train.

But Téchiné takes a rather languid path to this occurrence, devoting the first half of the film to lightly sketching in the key players. The young woman, Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), lives in the leafy suburbs with her mother, Louise (Catherine Deneuve). Louise suggests Jeanne find employment with an old flame of hers, Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), now a prominent civil-rights attorney. But Jeanne has thrown her lot in with a new boyfriend, a wannabe wrestler named Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle).

It's rather open-ended what precipitates Jeanne's ruse, and its repercussions unfold without much drama. The plot riffs on an emotional, politically charged issue, but this is one sanguine group of characters who provide little entrée for viewers to be anything other than equally observational. As such, the "problem" is mostly kicked around rather intimately, at a secluded country house to boot! 

A recurring theme seems to be the search for identity, but that may just be a perfectly normal byproduct of various turbulent life stages, and unrelated to Jeanne's deceptions and the ripples it causes. 

Perhaps if a viewer had already lived through the actual media frenzy that occurred, this rumination would play like a thoughtful grace note. While sufficiently intrigued while it unfolded, I ultimately found Téchiné's work a bit of a meaningless muddle. In French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., April 16. Manor

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