13th UK Jewish Film Festival: The Girl On The Train (Le Fille Du RER) (2009), Dir. André Téchiné

Tension mounts for Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) as she sits with Samuel Bleistein's (Michel Blanc) family

Rating: 7/10

The film concerns the twenty-something Jeanne  (a luminous Émilie Dequenne) and the consequences that come about when she makes up an anti-Semetic attack. It starts by showing the close relationship with her caring single mother Louise (the brilliant Catherine Deneuve), making her fall from grace more baffling and disturbing to Louise and the audience. When Jeanne is looking for her job Louise finds her a secretarial role at her old friend (who formerly wanted to marry her whiole she was married to Jeanne’s late father) Samuel Bleistein’s (Michel Blanc) law firm.

However she does not get the job and instead meets a man Franck (an intriguing Nicholas Duvaucelle who bears more than a passing resemblance to Tom Hardy) while skating who pursues her (after cleverly scamming her a suitcase) until she finally agress to meet up with him again (*spoiler warning read on to next paragraph if you don’t want to know all the plot details*). He then gets her involved unknowingly in a drugs ring so he can afford to live with her. An incident with a drug dealer then leaves him hospitlaised and prompts him to break off with her, angry for getting attached and annoyed  that she lied to him about her job as  a secretary. The whole incident leaves Jeanne traumitised and partly explains her fabrication of the anti-Semetic violence against her, showing her need for love and attention in this time of crisis.

The premise is quite an intriguing one and leaves some questions unanswered. It shows the effects that trauma can have upon someone, particularly someone like Jeanne who seems to be a compulsive liar and who is very influenced by events around her, particularly the reports and documenatries about anti-semitism she sees on the TV which inspires her to cut her face, neck and hair and draw swastikas on her stomach. Although I must say when the whole thing gets out of hand and there is a media outcry which prompts the President to declare his support for Jeanne, it did slip into the regions of implausability. Although it did show  that the media is partly to blame for the mass dissemination of misinformation which can provoke hysteria (particularly relevant given the recent melodramatic coverage of  swine flu by the tabloids).

Franck is also an interesting character, Demy conveying a potent mix of macho aggressiveness, charm and mysteriousness, with his tattoos, wrestling and twisted sense of humour (at one point jokingly telling Jeanne to strip when he first invite her to his apartment).  His reticence to talk about his family and brother in prison, and the fact that we don’t know anything about him apart from the small bits of information he gives to Jeanne means that we never really know him. It also shows Jeanne’s extreme naivety in getting so involved with him despite her mother’s suspicions about him.

Samuel Bleistein’s family are also an interesting example of the dysfunctional family with the volatile on-off relationship between Judith (Ronit Elkabetz) and Samuel’s son Alex (Mathieu Demy), the contempt show between Samuel and Alex and the estrangement of Alex and his son Nathan (Jérémie Quaegebeur). Although sometimes the scenes with them seemed a bit disjointed from the main narrative.

The use of music and cinematography (by Phillipe Sarde and Julien Hirsch respectively) I thought was also quite inspired, the repeated shot which opens the film of the camera tracking quickly through a metro tunnel draws you in and seems mysterious and dangerous. While the dramatic music imbued everyday scenes such as Jeanne skating through Paris with tension and a sense of foreboding.

Overall an intriguing look at the psychological impact of trauma which also deftly explores notions of guilt (particularly French guilt about the mistreatment of Jews stemming, of course, from the Nazi occupation) responsibilty and innocence. The fact that it leaves many questions unanswered may annoy some though and I would’ve liked to learn more about Franck and hwo he ended up, whether he sees Jeanne again or not. While the  narrative strand concerning the Bleisteins could’ve been more coherently linked with the main narrative. Definately worth a look though and it has made me want to explore Téchiné’s other films.


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