The Girl on the Train

Dir: André Téchiné

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Strand Releasing

94 Minutes

In 2004, a young French woman took the nation by storm, claiming a gang of black and Arab men assailed her after mistaking her as Jewish. The most compelling part of the tale is that the girl totally fabricated the attack.

In the hands of a lesser director, The Girl on the Train, a story that is not based on but merely reflects the 2004 incident, would have been a bathetic psychological mess, affording some hot young actress the chance to play crazy and wow the audience as she plumbed the depths of the character’s desire to be recognized and feel wanted. However, the 64-year-old André Téchiné isn’t interested in a soapy weeper but a complex story that takes on the dilemmas of anti-Semitism, drugs and neglect in modern France. Unfortunately, Téchiné tries too much, creating a film that is too far-reaching and too transparent for its own good.

Emilie Dequenne (Rosetta) plays Jeanne, a jobless college grad who spends her days rollerblading around the Parisian suburbs. She lives with her widowed mother (Catherine Deneuve) in relative middle class comfort only to be occasionally rattled by a passing elevated train. Jeanne meets Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), an aspiring wrestler who is aggressive, self-centered and arrogant. Soon, Jeanne and Franck are living together, watching a warehouse for a drug dealer who is out of town.

The film is broken into two chapters: “Circumstances” and “Consequences.” While the main thrust of the story is Jeanne’s relationship with Franck and her fruitless search for a job, Téchiné also introduces the Bleistein family. Patriarch Samuel (Michel Blanc), a successful lawyer and champion for Jewish rights, is Deneuve’s ex-flame who she shunned for her now deceased husband. When his atheist son returns from China, Bleistein is not only caught between a battle over his grandson’s bar mitzvah, but the reappearance of Deneuve in his life as she tries to curry his favor to get Jeanne a job at his law firm.

Unfortunately, the Bleistein plot breaks the trajectory of Jeanne’s story. Shielded by middle class narrowness, lost in her Walkman and rollerblades, Jeanne uses fragments of anti-Semitic crimes and Holocaust footage seen on television to fabricate her own attack where she draws swastikas on her body with indelible marker and slices herself up with scissors. However, despite her failed romance with Franck and lack of employable skills, Téchiné (and the other characters in the film) treat Jeanne’s crime with joking disbelief. Not even her own mother takes her seriously, although the media latches onto the tale with sensational vigor.

While Téchiné’s political sentiment, especially with any scene with Bleistein, is a bit overt, The Girl on the Train’s quiet moments are eerily effective. The lovely Dequenne is perfect to play the hapless Jeanne, a beautiful and helpless cipher that the country, the press and even the president can rally around as an example. As the film rumbles to its bucolic conclusion where Jeanne’s family and the Bleisteins converge on a country estate, Jeanne will never know to what extent her own lies, a cry for desperate bourgeois help, do a disservice to those who actually endured racist attacks. Rather than focus on the Bleisteins, Téchiné could have spent his time following Jeanne’s journey to her dunderheaded decision just because her boyfriend and mommy didn’t give her enough attention.

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