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Roman de Gare

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Guest franfran

I saw this film a few weeks ago at the Palace Verona at Paddington and loved every minute of it, even although I don't know too much French (there were subtitles of course). I don't know if it's still showing in any cinemas though. I think I'll buy it when it comes out on DVD.

The Scenery’s Gorgeous. You Want a Plot, Too?

By A. O. SCOTT

Published: April 25, 2008

 

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Claude Lelouch’s “Roman de Gare” is a thriller, a murder mystery and a somewhat self-conscious literary puzzle. All of that is entertaining enough, if a bit preposterous and overdone, but the twists and convolutions of the film’s beginning and end enable a middle that is dizzying domestic comedy.

 

A sleek Citroën pulls up at a muddy, care-worn farmstead at the foot of the French Alps, and what follows is 24 hours (around half an hour as the audience measures time) of sexual, social and familial absurdity. Huguette (Audrey Dana), a chain-smoking, emotionally brittle woman, has come back to her native village from Paris with the man she introduces to her parents, and to her semi-estranged adolescent daughter, as Paul, her fiancé. This “Paul” (Dominique Pinon) is a doctor, and Huguette’s sturdy peasant kinfolk view him a little warily before he breaks the ice with magic tricks and easygoing banter. But the high comedy of this visit is offset, and intensified, by acute anxiety.

 

Huguette and the audience know full well that this man is not Paul; the real Paul (Cyrille Eldin) abandoned her at a highway service station after a fight, and this fellow is a stranger who hung around and offered her a ride. He is either a schoolteacher on the run from a humdrum provincial existence, a ghost writer employed by a famous novelist, or a serial killer and child rapist recently escaped from prison. Mr. Lelouch, a deft manipulator of expectations and emotions, makes all three identities seem, for a while, equally plausible, while Alex Jaffray’s slyly sadistic score leads us to anticipate the worst.

 

 

Which is part of the fun, after all. And if “Roman de Gare” never quite lives up to the sheer delightful audacity of its mock-pastoral comic middle, it dispenses a few other pleasures en route to the talky, deflating revelations of its climax.

 

One of these is Fanny Ardant as Judith Ralitzer, the author whose ghostwriter “Paul” might turn out to be. A picture of world-weary elegance who adds a hint of existential suffering to her most offhand moments, Ms. Ardant brings grande-dame gravity to what is at heart a frothy and contrived diversion.

 

The title — “Roman de Gare” is idiomatically equivalent to “airport novel” — promises as much. But Mr. Lelouch is a director who likes to travel first class. A subplot set in Burgundy may be curiously tangential to the main narrative, but it allows for shots of vintage sports cars, opulent estates and rolling vineyards. Similarly, there is no real reason for so much action to take place on a handsome yacht anchored in Cannes. But then again, why wouldn’t you shoot a movie on a handsome yacht anchored in Cannes?

 

Or, failing that, what could be wrong with watching a movie where you will never have to wait very long to gaze upon a gorgeous landscape, a beautiful woman or a glass of excellent wine? At a time when many European filmmakers are rediscovering the virtues of austere realism, Mr. Lelouch unapologetically trades in luxury and fantasy. This predilection has, perhaps, prevented him from enjoying much in the way of critical esteem, but “Roman de Gare” at least offers testament to his skills.

 

Not the least of these is an ability to draw captivating and surprising performances from his actors. Ms. Dana is, at first, such a bundle of rage, insecurity and need that sympathy seems out of the question. And Mr. Pinon, with his half-squashed face and twitchy demeanor, seems far too creepy and skittish to carry the movie anywhere interesting. And yet between them they supply a twist of psychological delicacy that is ultimately more interesting than the mechanics of the plot. Which exist, ultimately, as a way of passing the time without too much tedium or strain.

 

“Roman de Gare” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for brief language and sexual references.

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