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Man On The Train
Paramount Classics
Official Site
Director: Patrice Leconte
Producers: Philippe Carcassonne
Written by: Claude Klotz
Cast: Jean Rochefort (Manesquier), Johnny Hallyday (Milan), Jean-Francoix Stevenin, Charlie Nelson, Pascal Parmentier, Isabele Petit-Jacques, Edith Scob

Rating: out of 5

Patrice Leconte also directed 1999ís The Girl On The Bridge, so I had my hopes up high. Alas, The Girl On The Bridge is a much better movie than Man On The Train, which left me saying, ďOh. How opaque. How French.Ē

From the start, the movie feels very much like a Western; to me, thatís a good thing. A stranger gets off the train in a small town. Itís reminiscent of Frank Miller stepping off that noon train in High Noon. The stranger is definitely a bad-ass, because he has his own theme music, twangy guitar that sounds like Leo Kottke or one of those guys. And sure enough, it gets even more Western-y as he wanders down an empty main street where you can almost feel the eyes peeking out at him from behind curtains. But then, the spell is broken when our bad guy moseys into not a bar but a drugstore, and demands not whiskey but migraine medicine. Oh these modern desperadoes!

Actually, Milan (Hallyday) is a desperado, a bank robber come to town for the traditional one-last-job. Johnny Hallyday is a bona fide French celebrity, as I understand it some sort of prince of Gallic rockabilly? On his way out of the drugstore, he falls in with Manesquier (Rochefort, grand old man of French cinema who had to drop out of Terry Gilliamís snakebit Don Quixote movie), a retired poetry teacher who invites him to stay at his home. The two are a study in contrasts. Manesquier is unassuming and knows it; Milanís Mephistophelian appearance cannot help attracting attention. Manesquier never carries keys because he never locks anything. However Milan, who looks like a Central Casting bad guy, locks the cupboard in his guest bedroom right away. Why? Because when he unpacks his bags, we learn that heís packing heat.

Naturally when Milan goes out, his host explores the room, discovering Milanís Western-style jacket, which he dons while pretending to be a Laramie gunman in front of the mirror. When his enigmatic guest returns, Manesquier comments pleasantly on his long-held secret desire to hold up the local bank. The men are pretty straightforward with each other; Milan attempts no pretense about his reason for coming to Smallsville. Manesquier has no problem with harboring an about-to-be criminal, regretting only that he cannot be a part of the robbery.

From here, itís a series of pleasant scenes of Rochefort and Hallyday interacting, as we countdown to Saturday, when both men have life-changing appointmentsóMilan with the bank and Manesquier with the surgeon. Saturday gives Leconte another opportunity to mine stock Western devices, like cutting to and fro between the preparations for the hospital and the bank. Watch for a nice scene of holdup men pulling on masks contrasted with the surgeons in their masks.

Mostly though, itís all character. The two leads are excellent characters, but theyíre all dressed up with nowhere to go. The general idea is that each wants to try on the otherís life, but weíre given no particular reason why Milan might envy an existence cramming French poetry down the unwilling throats of pimply adolescents. Plus, the movie has annoying bits. Thereís an oracular character whoís just too much of an eccentricity. Also Man On The Train has an interesting look; think sepia-tone, only done in blues in certain segments. Sometimes itís blued out, sometimes itís fairly normal color, and I donít think itís because Leconte got hold of some dodgy film stock. As near as I can make out, heís telling us something about Milan the gunman and blue steel, but like I said in the beginning, ďHow opaque. How French.Ē

óRoxanne Bogucka


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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