Man on the Train
Directed by Patrice Leconte. Starring Jean Rochefort, Johnny Hallyday. (2002, R, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 23, 2003
A man gets off a train in a sleepy French village and goes into a pharmacy to get some aspirin for his headache. While leaving the shop, another customer offers him a glass of water to wash down the pill at his nearby home. The mysterious man who comes to town is named Milan (Hallyday), and the older, hospitable man is Manesquier (Rochefort). As things turn out, they spend nearly a week in each other’s company, and as time passes they find themselves relieving each other’s metaphorical headaches. Milan is a hardened tough guy, a taciturn gangster who’s come to town to pull a bank heist. Manesquier is an effete but garrulous retiree who is scheduled for major surgery on the day of the heist. Although nothing alike, each man comes to realize he envies the other’s life. The worn-out Milan feels quite at home in Manesquier’s shambling old home and even asks to borrow a pair of slippers. Meanwhile, the repressed Manesquier admires himself posing in front of the mirror wearing Milan’s leather jacket and asks the gangster to give him lessons in shooting. Each is disillusioned about the life he is leading. These two fit together like a hand and glove. And that’s what the movie is about: the connective transference that occurs between the two men. The movie proceeds at a slow and quiet pace, often going stretches without any dialogue. The camerawork by Jean-Marie Drejou – the same D.P. who shot Girl on the Bridge for Train director Patrice Leconte (notice any similarities in this director’s titles?) – has a dreamlike quality that uses dissolves and other visual adjustments in texture and temporality. Yet the film ultimately seems more like an idea than a complete story, bereft of any narrative spine on which to hang the ideas. A murky conclusion reveals nothing more than the degree to which these two men have invaded each other’s identities. Certainly, Man on the Train loses something in its transposition to America where the two leads are not nearly as widely known as they are in their home country of France. Rochefort has appeared in scads of French comedies and sex farces, and will also be recognizable to anyone who has seen Lost in La Mancha. Pop singer Hallyday is known as the "French Elvis," although his appearance in this film is his first serious acting foray. Although both men do a good job of getting under each other’s skin, Man on the Train is a mere pit stop in Leconte’s career.