“The Magician and the Moth”
Roman de gare is a very complex film that begins almost too convoluted, but ends on a perfect note of closure. A story about a man on a journey for research on his next book becomes a visualization of the same suspense aspects he is manifesting in his head for the novel. We as an audience are hard-pressed to decide whether this man is truly a writer, a teacher who has left his school and family behind, an escaped serial killer magician, or, yes, God himself. Much like the soon to be lead role in his latest masterpiece of fiction, he actually becomes each one, playing the parts at just the right time until we finally see how everything that occurs has been orchestrated by his actions. It is not that he meant for it all to happen, no, chance and fate played a part as well. However, when all is said and done, Pierre Laclos has put his hands to the dough and molded a series of events in the real world to mirror the freedom he has in his mind when composing his thrillers. An unlikely God, Laclos takes himself seriously for once and decides to step out of the shadows that have been shrouding him for too long. The ghost is ready to take shape.
The first twenty minutes or so of this film can be quite disorienting. Timelines jump and characters appear and disappear making way for a completely different set of people to take center stage. What is shown becomes so oddly juxtaposed that I began to think this was to be a sort of Lynchian piece, showing multiple planes of reality, maybe even visualizing the novel in conjunction with the author’s search for inspiration. The fact that we are introduced to the celebrated writer Judith Ralitzer straight away, talking about her new novel God, The Other, yet are soon whisked to meet Laclos as he travels just after the release of her previous book, confusing us as to where we are in time, begins to make us question what is real and what is not. Allusions to a killer magician and the disappearance of a woman’s husband plant the seeds that our hero Laclos could be some sort of nefarious creature, playing a role with the young woman he kindly drives home after her blowup with her fiancé. Maybe this is the man that abandoned his family, or maybe he is the killer that murdered said man and took his identity, or maybe still he is neither and just a pawn in the hands of the filmmaker. My mind was racing trying to work out what might be happening, but thankfully as the story progresses, these questions are answered, every single thread finds a connection to each other—and not in the simple ways you assume they will—and the tale hits its stride as it sticks to one present time until finding its way back to the beginning of the film, which in reality is the end of the story.
That last convoluted paragraph might have your mind reeling now before you even experience the film itself, but rest assured, it all does make sense. Roman de gare isn’t some trite piece with its only goal being to manipulate and confuse, no, it does have a place it wants to go to and eventually reaches that destination. Every move is carefully orchestrated and infuses a lot of humor with the dark subject matter being portrayed. When you hear the description that will be used for the back of the book jacket of God, The Other, just remember it because I could have probably copied those words down here and it would have served perfectly as a review of the film. Because in essence, the novel being written as the movie goes on is the movie itself. Like that scene in Spaceballs when they decide to watch the movie they are in and eventually find themselves on a live feed as they fast-forwarded too far—that is this film. What is shown to us is what is written in the book, even that which happens after its publishing. It is the perfect crime in double.
Writer/director Claude Lelouch has crafted a very special thing here, always keeping the viewers on their toes, surprising even when it is obvious what will happen next. I will admit to never having heard of this former Oscar winning screenwriter, but suffice it to say, he has been added to my consciousness to try a seek his previous and future work. The story is what really succeeds, but it couldn’t have done it without a really well versed cast. Fanny Ardant is great as Ralitzer, conniving and persuasive, you can never tell what she is capable of and in some instances aren’t given the opportunity to find out as other characters are one step ahead of her; Audrey Dana is gorgeous and affecting as Huguette, the heroine of the film and novel alike; and Dominique Pinon is wonderful as always playing Laclos, stealing the show with his affable charm and kind heart—no one plays the ordinary man alive with life better. A staple amongst the work of auteur Jeunet, Pinon shows that he can carry a movie and hopefully will continue to do so in the years to come.
Roman de gare 8/10 | ★ ★ ★