The Girl on the Train
Directed by André Techiné
Co-written by Andre Techine,Odile Barski and Jean-Marie Besset from a play by Jean-Marie Besset
Starring: Émilie Dequenne, Catherine Deneuve, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Michel Blanc, Mathieu Demy
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, subtitled
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Tellingly, when we first meet the teenage girl at the heart of André Techiné’s The Girl on the Train, she’s rollerblading. Jostled by strangers and skating jerkily through a long dark tunnel, she’s hurtling towards the light and towards a future she has little control over.
When Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) reaches the end, she meets an audacious boy with a young-old face, and tries to dodge him. With typical delicacy, hand-held camera work, and a tasteful sound track that marries indecision to hope, Techiné establishes a mood of troubled adolescence right away. It’s hard to imagine this was once a stage play, given all the trains and tunnels and moving shots on skates and blades interspliced with handheld close ups of the aspiring lover and his target.
Jeanne tosses her mane of curly hair as the boy attempts to catch her hand. But after he tracks her to the baggage store where she’s ducked to hide and is checking out a cheap suitcase, a moment of fatal indecision ensues.
The boy cons the shopkeeper into charging less for the case. Impressed, Jeanne is soon divulging her e-mail. These small accumulative details are what Techiné offers about the two misfits, revealing them as both lost and admitting a need for love. But the question at the center of the movie – based on a true story that became a play — is not how these two get together but why they decide to do what they do.
Unemployed and living in the suburbs with a mother who cares for toddlers (Catherine Deneuve), Jeanne’s is a future she has little control over. Adrift on those rollerblades, she’s waiting for someone or something to happen — and finally it does.
The only certain connections the two lovers make are technical: they get together via photo-cam on e-mail; she listens to earphones on the suburban RER train when visiting him (the original French title is The Girl on the RER); she even gets her mother’s help in polishing her resume and applying for jobs online.
Jeanne’s relationship with her mother Louise is unusually close. She even lets her fix her job application – this time to a famous Jewish lawyer called Samuel Bleistein whom Louise knew in her youth. Jeanne does badly at her interview with Bleistein’s daughter-in-law (Ronit Elkabetz), whose ex-husband Alex (Mathieu Demy) lives in China.
Jeanne’s suitor Franck, meanwhile, is a mere amateur wrestler in small-time gigs that get him nowhere. Soon he’s pursuing a caretaking job at a warehouse that will win them an apartment plus a shady livelihood that he conceals from her.
When Jeanne’s mother finally meets Franck at his wrestling match, she’s at first skeptical and soon anxious. Predictably, the job comes with danger and a heist at the warehouse results in a brutal attack that lands Franck in hospital and Jeanne in a police cell. Desperate, Louise goes to her former lover Monsieur Bleistein for help. It’s at this point that Jeanne does something inexplicable – she invents an anti-semitic attack on her by seven Arab and African men on the RER train, asserting that they cut her and abused her and wrote swastikas on her flesh. But the police retrieve camera work and find no witnesses.
Viewers may object to this spoiler alert, but we can disclose it because Jeanne’s case is taken from real life, causing a sensation all over Europe at the time. Jeanne is soon unmasked as a fraud by her mother’s former lover Sam Bleistein – who has his own family problems with his son and daughter-in-law, some of which crowd out this plot rather uneasily. Together with his 13-year-old grandson Nathan (Jeremie Quaegebeur), Jeanne shares an awkward reunion meal at the Bleistein’s country house – and then a moment of surprising confession and intimacy with the boy, who has a crush on her. It’s another tender revelation in a movie that has several of them; it is one of Techiné’s endearing trademarks.