Roman de Gare
|Fanny Ardant||Judith Ralitzer|
|Boris Ventura Diaz|
|Directed by||Claude Lelouch|
A roman de gare is the French term for a novel you'd pick up in a train station for an engrossing read on the trip. Here we'd say a beach book, or a page-turner. Roman de Gare is all of that. It's a thriller, it's a mind game, and it's a hoot.
It comes from director Claude Lelouch, who made A Man and Woman back in the middle '60s, a movie that was required date viewing at the time, and whose score by Francis Lai was the romantic soundtrack for that generation. Lelouch hasn't exactly been playing hooky since then – he's made another forty-plus films – but with the exception of the Belmondo vehicle Les Misérables (1995), none of them have made much of a splash on this side of the Atlantic.
Lelouch is now 71 years old, and I bet he's never had as much fun with a film. Roman de Gare threads plots and characters and twists together like a demented weaver. We begin with Fanny Ardant (always a good place to begin) as celebrated author Judith Ralitzer, who has just published her latest novel. A book show host raves that it represents a startling leap forward in quality from her earlier efforts. Soon after, she findes herself in the Quai des Orfèvres police headquarters (a nod to the classic Clouzot thriller) being grilled about a murder. "Why don't you begin at the beginning?" suggests the cop. Don't you love it when they say that?
And back we flash.
A serial rapist-killer has escaped from prison. He's known as "The Magician" for his penchant for using magic tricks to pick up his young victims.
A young woman and her fiancé are fighting as they drive through the night, heading for her family's farm in Beaune.
A teacher and family man has disappeared. His distraught wife hounds the local police chief, demanding an investigation.
The young couple stops at a rest stop, where after some more verbal fireworks, the man drives off and abandons the woman, whose name is Huguette (Audrey Dana, who got a César nomination as Most Promising New Actress for this). Huguette is a self-described airhead, chain smoker, and pain in the ass. She is observed and then approached by Pierre (Dominique Pinon, a veteran character actor who has more credits than pores). He offers sympathy. He offers a ride. He does a magic trick for her.
Who is he? Who are any of these people? Is Huguette a beautician? A whore? A single mother, and a fan of Judith Ralitzer? Is Pierre a serial killer? A runaway husband? A secretary? A journalist? A ghost writer? What's going on with the wife whose husband has disappeared? And with the cop, who tells her that over 2,000 people a year disappear intentionally? And where's Judith Ralitzer?
On her yacht off Cannes, that's where. Anxious to get going on a new novel. But does she write her own stuff?
These are just a few of the questions that stuff this goose. The plots and complications slither and intertwine like snakes in the window of a Hong Kong fast food joint. There are schools of red herrings, tricks and feints galore, but most of it plays square with the audience, and when the whole thing begins to come together at the end it more or less makes sense.
Meanwhile we've got the appealing newcomer Audrey Dana to occupy us, and the pug-faced Pinon, who is best remembered here from City of Lost Children and Delicatessen. Pinon is a runt of a man who probably seldom gets a fling at romance in his oictures, and here, with his face like a crumpled glove with a fortnight's growth of beard, he relishes his stint as a leading man. And we've got Fanny Ardent, the de facto last Mrs. Truffaut, who can lay on the charm and the ice with equal ease, and who at 58 is still capable of pulling off a wholly satisfying seduction scene.
Roman de Gare invites comparison to another nifty French thriller currently engrossing audiences here, the intricately-plotted seat-squirmer Tell No One. But Lelouch's fim is in a sense the anti-Tell No One. Where the latter is deadly serious about its suspenseful, mind-challenging labyrinth of murder, deceit, and corruption, Roman de Gare is out having fun, dangling its clues and misdirections like a piñata at a birthday party. There is plenty of real hair-raising suspense in the movie, but its relentless, invigorating trickery keeps it in touch with its sense of humor as well.
There is so much sleight-of-hand to this film that Lelouch even made it under a pseudonym, Hervé Picard (Picard is the name of the police inspector in Quai des Orfèvres), and only showed his hand when he brought it to Cannes.
© Text 2008 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be