REVIEW: La Femme et la TGV [2016]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 30 minutes | Release Date: 2016 (Switzerland)
Studio: Arbel / Jacques à Bâle Pictures
Director(s): Timo von Gunten
Writer(s): Timo von Gunten

“I’ve never sent an internet and I never will”

While its age-old conceit of a misunderstood curmudgeon discovering joy after being perpetually caught in a cycle of monotony is familiar, Timo von Gunten‘s cutely inspiring La femme et le TGV is in fact based on true events. The woman at its center is Elise (Jane Birkin), a baker left alone after her husband passed on, her son (Mathieu Bisson‘s Pierre) moved away, and her clientele gradually enticed by a cheap German bakery with unbeatable prices. She rides her bike to town, sits at her counter, and waits for the one customer who continues stopping by. The rest of her time is spent shooing away disrespectful youths like Lucien Guignard‘s Jacques, the fast-driving boyfriend of the dance instructor across the street whose car keeps blocking her storefront.

That’s Monday through Friday, a routine spiced with excitement in the form of the TGV coming and going down the train tracks directly outside her house’s window. She’s waved at this locomotive for decades, first with young Pierre and then by herself. One alarm clock wakes her in the morning and another readies her for the evening’s trip back, her Swiss flag flapping in her hand as the driver honks his horn. This is the light within her otherwise drab existence. Everyone leaves her alone because she pushes them to, her son badgering her to shutdown her business and settle in a retirement home. And maybe she’d have finally agreed to do it too if not for a piece of paper flung from that steady train.

It’s a letter from Bruno the conductor (Gilles Tschudi), a man so touched by the constant salutations that he had to say “thanks.” From there he and Elise begin a correspondence, this aged woman smiling again in public and shocking the locals who learned to keep away. Only Jacques is unfamiliar with her enough to not run in fear. He sees her as a human being like Bruno, the façade built by years of existential crises penetrable after all. Suddenly the notion that our lives evolve in fate’s hand until there’s simply nowhere left to go is replaced by one of optimism and promise for the future. Past tragedies are just that: the past. Life forever remains possible, happiness in reach if only you’re willing to grab hold.

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