Roman de Gare
Directed by Claude Lelouch. Starring Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana. (2007, R, 103 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 20, 2008
Right up until its piffling ending, Roman de Gare is Lelouch's most intriguing film in years. Perhaps that's not saying much here in the land of Hulk and honey, where precious little of the French director's oeuvre has merited anything other than the briefest of arthouse releases since he won an Oscar for A Man and a Woman in 1966. But Roman de Gare deserves to be seen. It's intellectually cagey, potentially romantic, and, above all, an entertaining puzzle box of duplicitous people doing mysterious things, men and women. Contemporary French cinema has been getting a bad rap for years, particularly from the French themselves. (When I interviewed Jean-Pierre Jeunet a few years back, he almost totally dismissed his native country out of hand, as did Luc Besson – as if Angel-A and Taxi 4 were something to crow about.) Pinon (Amélie, The City of Lost Children) plays Pierre Laclos, the diminutive, introverted ghostwriter for bestselling novelist Judith Ralitzer (Ardant). He fears that his employer will kill him after he announces that his current work for her, a "metaphysical mystery" entitled God, the Other will be published under his own name and not hers. Or he may be a recently escaped serial child-murderer on the lam from the gendarmerie. Or still, he could be a humble Parisian schoolteacher who has left his wife and three children and is on the run from an insurmountable bout of ennui. This is Lelouch as magician, baiting-and-switching the audience by offering multiple identities – only one of which can be real – for nearly all of the film's characters, including the sexy, hysterical hairstylist Huguette (Dana), to whom Pierre possibly offers a ride when she's dumped by her physician fiancé at a gas station on the French/Swiss border. From there, things get complicated as she begs him to accompany her to her parents' rural farmhouse … and to pretend that he is, in fact, her caddish future husband. Roman de Gare works as both a multilayered class comedy ("Guess who's coming to dinner?!") and a provocative and trés française musing on the nature of identity in both the real and reel world. It's contemporary French cinema without a dollop of Besson and Jeunet's beloved CGI theatrics, and all the better for it.