In the opening scene of The Girl on the Train (La fille du RER), the light at the end of the tunnel seems very far away indeed. and just when you think the darkness might last forever, suddenly director Andre Téchiné cuts to a beautiful curly-haired woman with a sad expression.
An inadvertent femme fatale, Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) causes a metaphorical train wreck at every turn. after a bad breakup, she claims that she was attacked on the train because her assailants thought she was Jewish.
The film is loosely based on the real-life claim that a 23-year-old French woman made in 2004. According to her, a group of anti-Semitic African men scrawled swastikas on her body and pushed over her baby’s stroller.
French President Jacques Chirac publicly condemned the attack, and the incident made national news. Just one problem: the woman had made up the whole thing.
In Téchiné’s film, the incident itself lies as a backdrop to Jeanne’s relationships with her mother and her thug of a boyfriend. (They wreak havoc on poor Jeanne.) Her mother is played by the famous French film star Catherine Deneuve (Belle de Jour, Indochine). Deneuve’s character is an aging widow succumbing to her own loneliness and refusal to remarry.
Jeanne lives with her mom in a modest home just below the train tracks — and in scenes meant to act as a foil but which come off as if created for an entirely different movie, the members of a wealthy but dysfunctional Jewish family, the Bleisteins, plan for a bar mitzvah. Eventually their patriarch, a lawyer, takes pity on Jeanne and her situation.
Large swaths of the film show the young Jeanne rollerblading and attempting to secure employment. She doesn’t succeed, and Téchiné’s camera hovers above, his slow-paced cinematography revealing the fragility of Jeanne’s mind. Soon, in a very inappropriate cry for help, she’s jumping out onto the tracks.
Wherever she goes, Jeanne creates her own personal train wrecks. But Téchiné doesn’t condemn Jeanne or the real-life woman for what she did — instead, he examines their motivations. (Not Rated)