REVIEW: La fille du RER [The Girl on the Train] [2009]

“Once a liar, always a liar”

Split into two halves, titled Circumstances and Consequences, the French film La fille du RER [The Girl on the Train] tells the based on a true story tale of a girl wanting simply to be loved. Young Jeanne and her mother are inseparable, carrying on their lives to their hearts’ content. Louise stays at home babysitting others’ children while her daughter rollerblades around the city, headphones blaring music as a soundtrack to her life. Needing to find a job in order to sustain her yearly vacation to Italy, Jeanne is desperate for whatever she can get being that she’s a hard worker willing to do anything, but having no references or experience vouching for those facts. It’s quite serendipitous then that Louise catches an ad seeking a bilingual secretary for a high-powered lawyer—a man she in fact knew many years earlier and once asked her to run away with him. The interview unfortunately doesn’t fare well, yet her journey towards it also brings her onto the path of star wrestler Franck. It may be love at first sight, or perhaps his overzealous desire to have her, but the two begin a relationship and everything spirals out of control from there.

Director André Téchiné has created a successful work portraying the tale he wants, but filled with superfluous minutiae. The beauty of French cinema is its ability to sprawl and touch on details in people’s lives, some pertinent to the main plot and others absolutely unnecessary besides adding a little more background information to characters’ motives. The Girl on the Train is no different, showing so much to say so little. Amidst it all are some nicely shot scenes of movement with Jeanne rollerblading as foliage blows past or tunnel lights illuminate the way and even the superimposing of an instant message’s text above the visual frames of the two parties conversing. It’s an interesting piece of artistic flair that is never matched elsewhere; the rest of the movie shot conservatively and direct. What intrigues instead is the way the second half builds upon the events of the first. A lot of things are set-up: Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) is a girl with no trouble telling white lies, saying what others want to hear, including her mother (Catherine Deneuve), in order to be accepted in their world; Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is smitten and willing to do anything for Jeanne, including working with narcotics; and the lawyer, Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), is a man fighting to rid the country of a prevalent Anti-Semitic surge of violence, even though he is as unreligious a Jew as you could get.

All the facts seem to lead somewhere, each loose end appearing wrapped up and completed in tragedy. Jeanne’s desire for love has put her in a happy relationship with Franck, but also has compromised his morals to take a job guarding a stash of cocaine in a storefront for electronics. It is a quick fix for living quarters and monetary survival, so he brings her in without telling her the facts. For all she knows they are simply watching the store while its owner is on vacation. And while we see Jeanne’s apparently idyllic life fall apart once a dealer arrives looking for the goods, we also become privy to the Bleistein family and their myriad of dysfunction. Sam has found a calling in life with the law and is finally once more happy. His wife has passed, his ex-daughter-in-law works with him, his grandson is about to have his Bar Mitzvah, and his son is roaming the world, discontent and unknowing of what he wants. Out of the odd foursome of this Grandfather living and loving bachelor life while his children break-up and get back together on multiple occasions, it is the boy Nathan (Jérémie Quaegebeur) who stands out. Much more perceptive than his family may want to believe, he is the one on the pulse of it all.

The two families converge in the second half with much deeper purpose than simply Louise and Sam having known each other during the war. After the fallout of the crime at Franck’s drug stash, Jeanne devolves into a heightened state of depression as her boyfriend despises her lies, her mother is disappointed in her life choices, and Bleistein won’t hire her for a job. All these circumstances become the catalyst for the charade she then attempts to pull off. The news has been littered with Anti-Semitic beatings and crimes, France becoming polarized on the subject, rallying around those persecuted. So, with a life seemingly going nowhere and the ability to namedrop someone critically involved in the uproar, Bleistein, Jeanne fakes a beating, telling police she had been accosted on the train and abused for being presumed Jewish. It’s done for sympathy, to garner some attention from those around her while also allowing her to forget the events of the past month or so with Franck. But she underestimates the gravity of the situation and the country’s media machine’s ambulance chase for anything Anti-Semitic. The story goes national and the lie gets worse as a result, both because people of power believe and because those close to her knows it’s all fake.

The Girl on the Train is a pleasure to watch for its attention to detail. Watching the beginning half change into what follows seems odd at first, appearing to become a completely different film than originally laid out. But then as things move along, you do discover events occurring due to what happened before, the circumstances do in fact directly relate to the consequences at hand. The acting is great throughout, but special notice should go to Duvauchelle and Dequenne. He is very good as the boyfriend in love who is unafraid to speak his mind and go after what he wants. You oftentimes become uncomfortable with his jokes as the subject matter and delivery is cold and disturbing, but always find him endearingly affable, his feelings towards Jeanne authentic. And she carries the whole thing, from happy-go-lucky youth, to jilted lover, to impassioned depressive, to apologetically understanding in regards to the fiasco she is responsible for.

No matter how much pertinent information is brought forth, however, there is still an over-abundant quantity that does nothing to further the story. The visuals often get disoriented from quick cuts—sometimes to insanely short vignettes that confuse more then connect—and detail overload. We see the Bleistein clan so early on, yet watch as they disappear for a lengthy span of time, so long in fact that when we see Jeanne interview for Samuel, I didn’t recognize he or his daughter-in-law from the beginning at all. Once I got my bearings, though, it does begin to make perfect sense, despite its unorthodox delivery. It’s a fascinating look into one girl’s cry for help and the amount of lives her stunt could in fact affect, let alone the real crimes her actions might risk subverting altogether. I’m sure losing some scenes with a few snips here and there would only help the pacing and coherence, but this is a French film, a little confusion and departure from Hollywood contrivances is always a welcome breath of fresh air.

La fille du RER [The Girl on the Train] 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] La Fille du RER – Emilie Dequenne. Photo by Moune Jamet.
[2] La Fille du RER – Catherine Deneuve, Michel Blanc. Photo by Moune Jamet.

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