The Girl on the Train, the latest film from French auteur André Téchiné perhaps most well known for his film Wild Reeds, examines the ramifications of the allegations by a girl who claims she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack. Note: this review may contain spoilers.
The film is interesting in how it structures itself. It sets itself up in two parts. Part one is called “Circumstances” and part two is called “Consequences.” As expected, they each examine both what lead to the attack and what happened afterwards as a result of it. Sectioned films are not uncommon and it would be an interesting case study for film students to show that you can build your story in a very rococo fashion, as Rohmer did at times did, and still make it intriguing.
The Consequences section is very focused and really only shows the impact on Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) and her mother (Catherine Deneuve). There is an overheard media report and they receive a letter from the president, and an interview. However, you don’t really feel the frenzy as much as you might think because they go into hiding and then to an acquaintance’s country house. So there are both positives and negatives to the singular focus.
Unfortunately, this is one of those films whose logline tells you the midpoint of the story, as does the synopsis. So if you go in as a blank slate you’re fine, otherwise you’ll wait a bit.
A shortcoming of this film is that once the twist is unveiled it truly doesn’t attempt to examine Jeanne’s psyche and see why and for what cause she did what she did. It’s kind of like burying the lead, or as Ebert wrote in his opinion of Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (which I disagree with) that it missed the story. We see someone who did what they did, show no real remorse and then eventually confess, apologize and it’s over. What have we really learned? Not enough, if anything.
While the film struggles a bit with pace and scenes where our lead was just skating about could have been truncated if not excised completely there were some good things in the edit. Specifically, the film frequently fades to black putting a cap on a certain portion of the story and allowing you to reflect on it these were rather good more often than not. Towards the end it is not serving the story more often than not.
In the two young leads you get characters you just watch and don’t necessarily identify with that greatly, which is not necessarily a bad thing but it magnifies shortcomings in the execution of the tale. First, there is Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who makes a nuisance of himself until he wins over Jeanne, then falls into very shady business dealings and doesn’t inform her though he makes her an accomplice, then the character we have somewhat followed changes completely and in this regard the film leaves us as spectators and not participants, as opposed to the fades which do the opposite. This is a confused vision in this regard. It should be one or the other.
Catherine Deneuve in this film is just there again. It seems as if it’s been quite some time say since 8 Femmes since she’s been outstanding and not just part of the cast, however, hers, like many foreign filmographies is incomplete stateside.
The Girl on the Train is an interesting albeit flawed film that just missed the mark but still ultimately worth viewing and judging for yourself.