Film : "Roman de Gare:" Thrills and guessing games
It's particularly appropriate that French director Claude Lelouch used a pseudonym for his thriller, "Roman de Gare," the Martha's Vineyard Film Society offering at Katharine Cornell Theatre this Saturday. None of the characters in the film seem to be who you think they are at first.
The director built his reputation in 1966 with the Oscar-winning, universally acclaimed "Un Homme et une Femme," but he has not fared so well with critics recently. That explains the pseudonym, Hervé Picard, which he discarded once the film arrived at the Cannes Film Festival. "Roman de Gare," which translates idiomatically as "station novel" (its American title is "Crossed Tracks"), is as frivolous and fun as its title, a masterly mix of genres and moods.
The movie opens in a French interrogation room, where a popular novelist, Judith Ralitzer (the elegant Fanny Ardent) is being questioned about two murders. The scene quickly switches to a scenic Burgundy vineyard near Beaune, then to a theatre where the famous author is one of several writers being interviewed.
Prepare yourself for many such quick switches. Like all good magicians, M. Lelouch pulls off his cinematic tricks through sleights of hand in plain sight. One subplot follows another so fast you can't be sure if or how they're related.
Just when the audience gets interested in Ms. Ralitzer's description of how she met her late husband, the movie introduces two new characters and an ominous bit of radio news. One of these characters, Huguette (Audrey Dana), is apparently a hairdresser en route with her fiancé to see her parents, but the couple have a spat and her fiancé leaves her at a rest stop and drives away.
Meanwhile, a late-night radio announcer warns that a serial killer, nicknamed "The Magician," has escaped from prison. Next, we see a funny looking, unnamed man (Dominique Pinon) doing card tricks for the abandoned Huguette before offering her a ride. Then on the scene is a distraught woman, calling the police and begging for help because her husband has been missing for three days. Each of these characters reveals intriguing little bits of information about themselves that may or may not advance the central plot.
Huguette worships Princess Di and Judith Ralitzer's novels. The unnamed man who gave Huguette a ride now claims to be Ralitzer's ghostwriter, but is he really the serial killer -- or maybe the missing husband?
A character named Pierre impersonates Huguette's fiancé to please her parents, but the real fiancé winds up showing up at the family farm. So much goes on and so many paths cross, it's like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube puzzle; you either give up immediately in disgust or keep trying to figure things out.