Andre Techine has been one more the more internationally admired filmmakers for decades with films like My Favorite Season and The Wild Reeds earning him quite the reputation among Francophiles and art house aficionados. The release of a new Techine film sends at least minor waves through critical and foreign film communities in the United States (more so in Europe) but his latest, the oddly assembled The Girl on the Train, has been receiving mostly mixed reviews. It’s mostly a mixed drama with some elements that truly work and the clear fingerprint of a talented filmmaker, but it also features drastic tone changes and never quite coheres into a completely effective overall piece, ending up more “interesting” than “riveting.” There’s still more than enough to like here to warrant a look, but it’s unlikely to expand past the filmmaker’s fan base. This won’t be the flick to garner Techine the wider audience he deserves.
Working off a play based on the true story of a headline-grabbing event, The Girl on the Train tells the tale of a young girl telling a big lie; one that shines a bright light on issues of racism, anti-Semitism, and the culture of hate simmering under France in the new millennium. The (almost-too) gorgeous Emilie Dequenne plays a young woman named Jeanne, a freewheeling 22-year-old caught between the carefree days of her youth and the imminent requirements of adulthood. The child in Jeanne still has a penchant for telling lies but her mother (the always-spectacular Catherine Deneuve) has worked her into a potential position with a prestigious attorney (the also-always-spectacular Michel Blanc). Jeanne is torn between the life clearly being laid out for her by her mother and the seedy behavior and con jobs being run by her boy toy. But this is not An Education. Jeanne sees the fork in the road of her life and takes another path altogether, telling a remarkable lie for which there is no conceivable apology that could explain her behavior. Jeanne convinces the world that she been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack on a Parisian train, bringing into sharp focus the complex racial and social issues simmering under French life … but, it was all a lie.
That last fact leads to a story that feels somewhat cluttered and inconsistent in tone. Trying to work so many story angles at once makes for a film that can be hard to pin down, but how often do we criticize films for being too rich with subtext in a world where so few have any concrete ideas at all? I believe The Girl on the Train could have been a bit more focused and refined but it is still a rich, deep, and complex drama with spectacular performances by Deneuve, Blanc, and Dequenne as well as typically accomplished direction from one of the best in the world. Minor Techine is still major cinema.
Rating: THREE BONES
Release Date: April 23rd, 2010
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Emilie Dequenne, Michel Blanc, and Nicolas Duvauchelle
Director: Andre Techine
Writers: Andre Techine & Odile Barski and Jean-Marie Besset