"The Man on the Train" ("L’Homme du Train")
Directed by Patrice Leconte
Written by Claude Klotz
Produced by Philippe Carcassonne
Starring Jean Rochefort, Johnny Hallyday, Jean-François
Stévenin, Charlie Nelson, Pascal Parmentier, Isabelle Petit-Jacques
and Edith Scob
In French with English subtitles
Opening at the Broadway
(out of four)
Rochefort tries on Johnny Hallyday's jacket as he begins to consider
the life he could have had. Don't you wish you had that jacket.
A man steps onto the platform
of the small-town train station, his face showing the harsh years behind
him. At the pharmacy he runs into another old man, this one more whimsical
and less abused. Time has wizened both men in different ways and, as
Patrice Leconte’s latest masterpiece "The Man on the Train"
shows, wisdom has taught each man that his life isn’t all its
cracked up to be and that the other’s life is much more attractive.
The casting is ingenious: Johnny Hallyday, the rock star whom the French
have worshipped for four decades, plays Milan, the traveller. Jean Rochefort,
the great French actor who has also seen decades of work but still looks
eager and curious, plays Monsieur Manesquier, a retired poetry teacher
who works as a tutor and passes the time in his large inherited home.
The town’s only hotel is closed, so Milan has to accept Manesquier’s
One talks too much, the other doesn’t say enough. One dreams of
the bold confrontations seen in the movies, the other has experienced
enough of them to know that they aren’t all they’re cracked
up to be. Rochefort and Hallyday play off each other’s personas,
creating intriguing character dynamics.
Hallyday’s arrival isn’t shot with the standard editing
formula or the music-video approach that often passes for style; rather,
it is as if the director considered each framing, each pan and whip
pan to suit the mood and subject matter. Cinematographer Jean-Marie
Dreujou adds the beautiful colors of the provincial town.
The scenes in this movie are the kind you see clips of and immediately
recognize their elegant beauty. This isn’t too big a surprise,
because the great Patrice Leconte directed the film.
Leconte is one of cinema’s living treasures. His films vibrate
with music, ideas, images and lively performances, all originating from
a deep love for film. I remember seeing "The Girl on the Bridge"
(1999, 2000 in United States) for the first time and smiling with glee
through the entire film, amazed with how consistently amazing it is.
The film is about a knife-thrower and a nymphomaniac who meet and discover
that they give each other good luck.
As in that film, the two men who meet in "The Man on the Train"
seem to have a special sort of connection. Perhaps they both wish they’d
led the other one’s life. Of course, neither man’s life
While a lesser film would have made the characters exactly how the other
person expected them, Claude Klotz’s screenplay reveals surprises
in riveting, if casual, conversations with excellent dialogue. When
Milan asks if Manesquier was a good teacher, he replies, "Not one
pupil molested in 30 years on the job." Leconte prevents the characters
from becoming typical and predictable and shows them in an unexpected
While the film is more about its characters than its plot, Milan is
in town for a bank robbery. The film follows the changes in the characters
in the time leading up to the robbery.
From the beginning, Milan isn’t enthused about the crime. One
of his partners hasn’t shown up, and the other has brought a getaway
driver who only says one sentence every day, at 10 a.m. Before the driver
says it, the partner explains, he thinks. Afterwards, he rests. The
resulting statements include statements such as, "revenge is misfortune’s
The sorts of odd details and visual grace found in "The Man on
the Train" are the reasons we go to the movies. Whenever a Leconte
film arrives stateside, it makes ordinary films with formulaic screenplays
wash away because for every 100 or so of them, there’s one film
made with love, passion and precision. Of course, if hundreds of filmmakers
realized that they should be spending their lives with Patrice Leconte’s
joy of filmmaking, that’d be nice too.