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Roman de Gare (A Movie Review)


Starring Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana, Michèle Bernier, Myriam Boyer, Zinedine Soualem, Boris Ventura Diaz, Marc Rioufol, Thomas Le Douarec, Sarah Lelouch, Shaya Lelouch, Cyrille Eldin, Gilles Lemaire, Serge Moati, Bernard Werber and Arlette Gordon.

Screenplay by Gérard de Battista and Claude Lelouch.

Directed by Claude Lelouch.

Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. 103 minutes. Rated R.

The masks that we wear while we deal with others and the impossibility of guessing what is going on in other people's lives are the intriguing backdrop in this supremely twisty mystery melodrama.

Ironically, the film was created by long-prolific French director Claude Lelouch – who is best known in the States for the classic 60s love story Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman) – but filmed and sold under an alias. Lelouch, who came clean about being the auteur as soon as the film hit the festival circuit, says he just wanted to prove that he could sell a film without his own reputation to push it over the top. Of course, this low-profile may have also had something to do with distancing it from the failure of the venerable director's aborted trilogy La Comedie Humaine – which was abandoned after only the first two films were made.

Despite the fact that the film was supposedly directed by someone named Herve Picard, it was evident early on that the film bears many of the stylistic touches of Lelouch.

The film is called Roman de Gare – which translated literally means railway station novel – but is usually more loosely translated as a pulp fiction novel, the kind you pick up in a shop for a long train trip and toss when you get there. It even has certain slight similarities to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, such as a twisty-turny plot, a timeline that sometimes jumps back and forth and intelligent dialogue and surprisingly smart characters who are connected in surprising ways.

However, that is where the similarities end. Roman de Gare is more intellectual and has much less brute violence. It is structured in a much more mainstream manner – and thus is sometimes both less thrilling and less frustrating.

Roman de Gare centers around three disparate characters. We are never exactly sure what exactly is their connection – in fact, even if there is any – until the very end.

There is Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant), a famous novelist of limited talent whose latest book turns out to be a significant artistic leap. Right as she is at the apex of her career, she is approached by the police, who suggest she may have been involved in a murder.

Then there is Huguette (Audrey Dana), an angry and needy thirty-some hairdresser (or is she a prostitute?) who gets dumped at a service plaza in the middle of nowhere by her fiancé when she is taking him back to her family farm to meet her parents, brothers, sisters, and daughter. The star-struck Huguette also may or may not have once styled the novelist's hair.

Finally, there is Pierre (Dominique Pinon), an odd little man who hangs out at highway service plazas, showing magic tricks to little girls, quietly observing, and talking to strangers. Is he a schoolteacher who has just abandoned his wife, the ghostwriter for the famous mystery novelist, a pedophile serial killer on the loose – or all three?

All of the characters and conflicting threads of the story eventually weave together to make for a satisfying and clever tale.

Even if the story is somewhat purposely slight, the film is gorgeous, and the acting is stunning.

Pinon (Delicatessen, Amelie, Alien: Resurrection) makes an offbeat leading man but makes the best of the opportunity, in turn charming and mysterious. Ardant (Callas Forever, Ridicule, The Libertine) brings the novelist an icy ambition. Staying up with and perhaps even besting the more well-known castmates is Dana – the role of Huguette has earned Dana a Cesar (the French equivalent of an Oscar) as the most promising new talent.

For a movie that was made to be disposable entertainment, Roman de Gare really sticks with you.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved. Posted: April 10, 2008.


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