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The Girl On The Train

On July 9 2004, a young woman walked into a police station in a Paris suburb and reported that she had been attacked on a subway platform by a half dozen young Muslim men, who drew swastikas on her and otherwise roughed her up for being a Jew (even though she wasn’t). The case immediately became a national outrage in a country that is both sensitive to charges of anti-Semitism and uncomfortable with its immigrant population. The furor lasted for four days until the woman admitted that she made the whole thing up as a bid for attention. Her story was threadbare at best, and the lasting lesson was how willing the French were to accept it.

That story is the inspiration for The Girl on the Train, and I mention it largely because the French audience for whom it was made went to see it knowing the details of the case. But while the identity crisis in France that was thus revealed is an interesting topic, it’s really not what this film is about. That will come as no surprise to fans of the cerebral filmmaker Andre Techine (Wild Reeds, My Favorite Season), who is more interested in exploring personal identity than politics.

Divided into two sections, “Circumstances” and “Consequences,” The Girl on the Train spends most of its time watching Jeanne (Emilie Dequenne). First seen rollerblading, she appears to be a girl without a care at the outset of life. We only slowly realize the degree to which she is unmoored, with no employable skills and an emotionally distant mother (played by Catherine Deneuve, who has no trouble playing a character at least 20 years younger than her own age).

Jeanne’s drift brings her briefly in contact with Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), a famous Jewish lawyer who once knew her mother. Bleistein’s problems with his own family, grounded in a much stronger sense of identity, become a comparison for Jeanne in the second half of the film.

While the film doesn’t attempt to document or exploit a sensational incident, that might have been more useful to American audiences than this subtle exploration of shifting national character that views individual psychology as essentially unknowable. But as always Techine is a capable director of actors, and The Girl on the Train is watchable entirely for its performances, particularly Dequenne, who was named Best Actress at Cannes 10 years ago for her debut in Rosetta but otherwise hasn’t been in many films that have made their way to North America.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for The Girl On The Train

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