Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Writer In Search Of A Character

Obviously, I’m happy to have Indiana Jones back in theaters but really, does he have to be in all of the theaters? Can't there be something else to go see? Have the studios pretty much abandoned the concept of counter-programming? Shouldn’t we be getting a romantic comedy this weekend starring Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts or maybe even Hugh Grant AND Julia Roberts? There are some romantic comedies playing out there but they all look pretty intolerable, which is what I’ve heard they are. My point is, doesn’t anyone want to take my money and show me a movie? Genuinely wanting to go to the movies I decided to see what was playing at the Laemmle Sunset 5. I noticed there was a French thriller directed by Claude Lelouch. Boom! Done. I didn’t know what it was about, but the few reviews I glanced at appeared favorable and it seemed likely that there would be a minimum of CGI and talking animals. That’s how I wound up in the Laemmle Sunset 5 on Sunday afternoon sitting in a theater with about twenty senior citizens.

I like that I knew very little about ROMAN DE GARE going in and it makes me hesitant to reveal very much about it to anyone who may actually go to see it as well. I will say that the plot, as it seems to be presented to us at first, involves a missing schoolteacher, news of an escaped serial killer, a mysterious man (DELICATESSEN’s Dominique Pinon) traveling by car from Paris to Cannes, a young woman (Audrey Dana) who has been abandoned at a service station by her boyfriend, a famous novelist (Fanny Ardant), along with issues of identity, creativity, truth and how much might really be known about the people we meet.

After an opening which begins to lay things out in the form of a puzzle, the film picks up a plot strand which seems tangential at first, then blossoms into being more important than we first realize. The first hour, simply put, is stunningly good. Then, as the various pieces begin to fall into place I found myself leaning forward in my seat with excitement and anticipation over what was to come. This doesn’t lead to a letdown in any way, but it did feel like the schematics of the film’s plot felt more apparent as it reached its denouement. It’s almost tempting to overrate ROMAN DE GARE (which translates as ‘railway novel’ or, as we would call it, ‘airplane reading’. Variety reviewed it last year as CROSSED TRACKS) because of what I didn’t know about it going in. After all, it is a French film seen in an arthouse with a fair amount of scenes featuring people drinking wine on yachts in Cannes, lending it the automatic feel of quality and esteem. On the off chance this turns anyone off instead I’ll simply say that for the most part ROMAN DE GARE is an extremely suspenseful, entertaining, thought-provoking piece of work which I highly recommend. The three leads are excellent for reasons I can’t even go into here and the film is helmed superbly by Lelouch. I suppose I should confess that I’ve never seen one of his films before now so I’ll have to do something about that.

True, at first I was thrilled with what I was seeing, then I began to wonder if a few of the revelations were too gimmicky. Now, several hours later, I find myself thinking about the film and its characters, wondering about the choices they made and how they were affected. It might be ‘just’ a thriller, presented in the guise of an arthouse film, but considering what I got I have no complaints. Sometimes it pays to think outside the box and take a chance on a film you’ve never heard of. But now you’ve heard of ROMAN DE GARE, so the next step is up to you.

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