Film : From lie to scandal
A young woman's self-serving lie turns into a national scandal in André Téchiné's 2009 film, "The Girl on the Train" ("la Fille du RER"), which the Martha's Vineyard Film Society brings to the Katharine Cornell Theatre this Saturday, Jan. 30. The story is based on a play about a real incident in recent French history.
Considered among the best of France's post-New Wave directors, Téchiné is known for his lyrical investigations of the human psyche. In "The Girl on the Train," the director focuses on Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), a recent grad who is job hunting but really prefers rollerblading.
The great French star Catherine Deneuve plays Jeanne's widowed mother, Louise, who runs a daycare center in her home. Although her role is a subsidiary one, Ms. Deneuve demonstrates the way star power can knock narrative slightly askew. Any viewer who knows and likes Deneuve keeps waiting for her character to take center stage.
But the spotlight stays on young Jeanne, whose immaturity is reflected by her passion for skating. In a lovely sequence early in the movie, Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a handsome young wrestler, pursues Jeanne on skates.
After a romantic bit of hide-and-seek, the two end up in a luggage shop, where Franck buys Jeanne a brightly colored suitcase she says she needs for the imaginary vacation she plans. It's one of the first clues the film will demand the viewer look beyond the luminous surfaces of cinematography, character and setting.
In the meantime, Jeanne lands an interview in the office of prominent Jewish lawyer Samuel Bleistein, who had once been infatuated with her mother. The interview is a disaster, but it doesn't matter once Jeanne and Franck become a couple. Franck lands a house-sitting job for a mysterious acquaintance who seems to run an electronic shop. The couple has few duties and is paid well, taking the burden off Jeanne to get a real job.
Trouble quickly enters the young lovers' paradise. Franck is beat up by an intruder in search of drugs, the police get involved and Jeanne moves back in with her mother.
Once Franck is jailed for his role in the drug scam, he renounces Jeanne, blaming her for his troubles. A distraught Jeanne fabricates a story about being assaulted by a group of African and North African toughs who thinks she's Jewish.
The media frenzy that follows stirs up an international incident. In an attempt to help her daughter recover from her amour manqué, Louise appeals to Bleistein, and she and Jeanne spend the weekend with the Bleistein family. No one actually believes Jeanne's lie, but it is Bleistein's precocious grandson, about to have his bar mitzvah, who gently confronts Jeanne.
Throughout "The Girl on the Train," M. Téchiné keeps the emphasis on the interstices -- capturing moments of conversation or action that remain essentially peripheral to the central narrative stream. The viewer is left wondering what really happened and what it all means, but that may be the point. Life is lived not in grand narratives, but quiet, easily overlooked moments.
"The Girl on the Train," Saturday, Jan. 30, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.
Brooks Robards writes on art, film, and books for The Times.