In André Téchiné’s The Girl on the Train, two intertwining stories articulate an overwhelming desire to find connections, companionship and all enveloping love. This post-New Wave French film focuses on Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), a young woman attempting to find love in order to fill the void she feels in her life. Jeanne is a fresh-faced young adult with voluminous curly red hair and a contagious smile, who begins the film a complacent woman, living in the suburbs of Paris with her mother, Louise (Catherine Deneuve). Unemployed and unmotivated, she hurls herself around the city on her rollerblades looking for her place in society.
It is while rollerblading that Jeanne encounters Franck, a young wrestler who feels an overwhelming desire to claim Jeanne as his. At first, Jeanne resists his advances, tossing aside his claim that he experienced love at first site when he saw her. Yet, she quickly lets down her guard, and plows full steam ahead into an immediate romance.
As unassuming as Jeanne’s life seems at the start of the film, her reality quickly becomes a series of misshapen events. Franck arranges that they become caretakers of an electronics store, which actually acts as a front for a drug ring. Completely unaware of why or how they are being paid to live in an apartment, Jeanne’s lackadaisical attitude is the audience’s first exposure to her naïveté. She eventually is alerted to the situation after Franck is stabbed during a transaction, and is hospitalized and arrested for his participation in his illicit profession.
Jeanne visits her boyfriend in the hospital, only to have him tell her that his entire reality is all her fault. Suddenly, Jeanne is emotionally flung forward as she begins to make irrational choices that shape the course of her life. In an attempt to regain affections and attention, she claims to have been attacked by a group of youths, targeting her for having the card of Samuel Bleistein, a prominent human rights lawyer who she had interviewed with several weeks ago. Cutting herself on her face, arms and neck, and drawing a backwards swastika on her stomach, she approaches the authorities with her story.
The accompanying narrative follows the Bleistein’s, a Jewish family struggling to come to terms with their inter-family relationships, and religious affiliation in an increasingly polarized society. The aforementioned Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc) is the patriarch of the family, a successful lawyer, taking on hate-crime cases following a rash of anti-Semitic attacks in Paris. Alex (Mathieu Demy) and Judith (Ronit Elkabetz) are Samuel’s son and daughter-in-law, a divorced couple that find solace in their quick-tongued quips and secret desire for one another. And, finally, there is Nathan (Jérémie Quaegebeur), Alex and Judith’s son. Nathan is child on the brink of manhood, as he is about to have his bar mitzvah.
Both families are set for a crash course, as media frenzy begins to consume Jeanne’s fictitious story, and the attack’s relationship to Sameul Bleistein. Together, all of the characters escape to the countryside, where Jeanne comes to terms with her lies. Wise beyond his years, Nathan sits with Jeanne, and asks her the important question: Why did she pretend to be attacked? She answers meekly, “I wanted to be loved, and the opposite happened.”
With the film’s rollercoaster ride of a plot line, and constantly confused characters, Jeanne’s mother, Louise, is a ray of light in this dark film. She attends to her daughter with never ending devotion, attempting to get her a job, shield her from pain, and protect her from malice. Louise’s efforts are often thwarted by Jeanne, herself, selfishly living her life with no regard of the consequences. And, yet, for a majority of the movie, Louise continues to provide unyielding strength and support for her daughter, often times forfeiting her own enjoyment to aide Jeanne.
Overall, the condition of loneliness that the characters find themselves in never seem to be resolved. Connections are made and broken, lies are told and then admitted to, but the viewer still feels oddly removed from the storyline, unable to penetrate the thoughts of the individuals that are being viewing. A major flaw may be found in the nature of the story that Téchiné is trying to portray. Drawn from news headlines in 2004, Jeanne’s story is a real one, yet it is unclear why it must be told again. The only message that can be gleamed from the film is that one can easily be swept away by their life. Instead of riding in the train, like Jeanne, feeling lost and out of control, one must take charge of one’s own life to avoid meeting a similar fate.
The Girl on the Train is playing on Saturday, April 17 at 7:15 p.m. and Tuesday, April 20 at 7 p.m. in Willard Straight Hall.