Monday, June 16, 2008

Roman de Gare ****

Roman de Gare (aka "Crossed Tracks")
France, 2007, 105 minutes
Director: Claude Lelouch.
Cast: Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana, Michèle Bernier, Myriam Boyer, Zinedine Soualem, Boris Ventura Diaz, Marc Rioufol, Thomas Le Douarec.
Tagline: "Everyone has a secret. Every mystery has a twist."

It's difficult to say much about this film's narrative without giving away its red herring plot, so here are some broad capsule reviews:

Charles Theater Plot Capsule: "In the still of the night, three lives are about to cross…a woman abandoned, a stranger awaiting his chance and a best-selling author who imagines the thriller of the year. Deceptively layered and intriguingly misleading, this highly anticipated new feature from writer/director Claude Lelouch (Oscar winner for A Man and a Woman) stars Dominique Pinon and Fanny Ardant as an unlikely couple caught up in a game with high stakes—and deadly consequences."

Rotten Tomatoes Capsule:
"As the film opens, popular crime novelist Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant) finds herself at the receiving end of a police interrogation for two murders. We then learn about the escape of an actual serial killer known as "The Magician," who may already be lurking on the roads leading out of Paris. The road is where we find Huguette (Audrey Dana), a high-strung hairdresser who is soon abandoned by her enraged fiancé at a highway service station. Huguette is rescued by the unassuming Pierre (Dominique Pinon), who may or may not actually be the ghost writer responsible for Judith Ralitzer's success..." - or the serial killer. "Taking advantage of a superb cast and gorgeous French locations, Lelouch's veteran touch deftly manages ROMAN DE GARE's multiple layers of mystery and romance. The result is a pleasingly chic thriller grounded in a very human belief in the surprising possibilities that come from love."

It's been a long time since Claude Lelouch was in the spotlight. One would have to go back to 1966, in fact, when his Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman) won the Palme d'Or, Golden Globe and Oscar as Best Foreign Film. But with Roman de Gare, his 49th film in a 50-year career, the 70-year-old director proves he still has game in a stylish tale of ghost writers and the mysteries of authorship. Appropriately enough, when Roman de Gare screened for Cannes consideration last year, Lelouch submitted it under a pseudonym, because he wanted people to judge Roman de Gare on its own merits and not as "a Lelouch" - a real-life mishievous take on the plot twists of his new film.

About the title: "Roman de gare" (literally "station novel") is French slang
for the type of trashy books - typically cheap crime mysteries and thrillers - that one buys in train stations (or drugstores, airports, subways, etc.) for a quick read while commuting or on vacation. In other words, not great literature, but brisk, easily disposable entertainment. This is similar to the Italian pulp crime novel genre known as giallos and our own "beach best-sellers." Thus, Lelouche's title seems to be hinting that while his story may be slight, it's guaranteed to be entertaining and full of enjoyable twists. And that it is.

In a rare starring turn, veteran French actor Dominique Pinon - you've seen him before (he was in Amelie and Delicatessen and made his first screen appearance in 1981's Diva) - shines in a career-defining performance. My friend Marc Sober referred to him as "that ugly guy - the French Michael J. Pollard," and that thespian analogy stuck with me throughout the film (I sure hope Marc wasn't hoping to get his autograph some day, because I've blown it for him in that case!)

Dominique Pinon: The French Michael J. Pollard

Truffaut's old flame Fanny Ardant plays the Jet-set celebrity author Judith Ralitzer and is the biggest name in the cast, but somehow I didn't find her all that engaging.

No, the real discovery here is newcomer Audrey Dana as hair-brained hair stylist Huguette whose rants agaist men always seem to start with the line "I let him come in my mouth" (even in front of her parents and total strangers!). She has many outstanding scenes - her tearful desperation after being abandoned on the roadside by her fiancee, her tense/awkward/protective scenes with her daughter - but I most enjoyed her faux orgasm scene when pretending to have sex with her fiancee so as to reassure her eavesdropping mother that all was ca va! with Mr. Right in the romance department. Of course, no one did it better than Shirley Maclaine in Being There, but this was quite an impressive - and humorous - scene for Ms. Dana.

Ooo-la-la: Was it good for you, too?

Mam'selle Dana also looks rather stunning in boots, as the photo below attests.

These boots were made for street walking

Dana's background seems to be in French TV, though in an interesting twist, she played Claude Lelouch's mother in his "Cinema de Boulevard" segment of Chacun son cinéma ou Ce petit coup au coeur quand la lumière s'éteint et que le film commence (2007) - a collective film comprised of 33 short films by various directors revealing their feelings about cinema. (Hopefully she wasn't as irresponsible a mother to Lelouch as her Huguette character in Roman a Gare.)

But back to the film...

Along the way, Lelouche's direction is clever and confident. The use of dissolves is impressive: as a car drives down the highway in a point-of-view shot, we hear a radio report about an escaped serial killer that dissolves into the feet of the killer on the run.

Lelouch's use of sounds and music to comment on and offer contrast to scenes is inspired as well. When you think a child rapist has disappeared into the woods with a young girl, he fills the soundtrack with the ominous sound of pigs being slaughtered. Meanwhile, at the gas station where Huguette is having a fight with her boorish fiancee, we view the scene from the point of view of Dominique Pinon, who calmly watches the heated exchange from inside the rest stop, where soothing E-Z Listening musak offsets the tension brewing outside. Needless to say Lelouch's old friend Jacques Brel is on the soundtrack, as well.

And now a slight digression...

Rendezvous Deja Vu

Certain stylistic flourishes in this film are distinctly Lelouch. For example, the point-of-view driving scenes in Roman de gare are almost certainly a nod to Lelouche's controversial 1976 short C'était un rendez-vous (literally "It Was an Appointment"), aka Rendezvous, a 9-minute film steeped in urban legend. According to the legend, on an August morning in 1976, Lelouch mounted a gyro-stabilized camera to the bumper of a Ferrari 275 GTB and had a professional Formula 1 racer drive at breakneck speed through the heart of Paris.

The camera used only had a ten minute film magazine, hence the mad dash to the steps of the Basilique du Sacre Coer in Montmatre to rendezvous with the beautiful blonde waiting there (Mrs. Lelouch, for the record). No streets were closed, for Lelouch was unable to obtain a permit. Thus the film is admired for being cinema verite in the strictest sense. Fans continue to debate whether it was really Lelouch himself driving and whether it was a Ferrari, Lelouch's own Mercedes, or a motorcycle being raced. On first showing, Lelouch was supposedly arrested. In his defence, he proclaimed he had taken all possible precautions - including the use of that Formula 1 driver to helm the car.

Subsequently the film went underground, occasionally to be shown in front of a Lelouch full-length feature on theatrical release. Charm City cineastes can rejoice because a 16mm print of Rendezvous is available for checkout at Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library. But if you don't live in Baltimore or have a 16mm projector, this joy ride is only as far away as an Internet connection, thanks to someone uploading it to YouTube.

C'était un rendez-vous (1976)

This short was also used as the music video for Snow Patrol's song, "Open Your Eyes" (though it sounds lame without that roaring Ferrari engine!).

In the wake of films like Ronin, Death Proof and Speed Racer and advances in CGI technology, Rendezvous may seemed somewhat dated. But don't forget, this was 1976 and it was shot live without special effects, sped-up film or blocked-off streets. This is what separates Rendezvous from all other films: it's "verite" not virtual - or in Budweiser terminology: "True."

A favorite of the editors of Car & Driver magazine, (“better than any chase ever filmed, because it’s real”) it is definitely NOT recommended for driver’s ed students.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I don't think I called Dominique Pinon ugly, only that he had an interesting face ala Michael Pollard, who should be cast in the US remake, if he's still working and not too decrepit.

Lots of interesting comments on Rendezvous at Amazon -
9 Minutes of Mayhem, May 12, 2006
By Comet Zipper (Texas) - See all my reviews

On an August morning in 1978, French filmmaker Claude Lelouch mounted a gyro-stabilized camera to the bumper of a Ferrari 275 GTB and had a friend, a professional Formula 1 racer, drive at breakneck speed through the heart of Paris. The film was limited for technical reasons to 10 minutes; the course was from Porte Dauphine, through the Louvre, to the Basilica of Sacre Coeur.

No streets were closed, for Lelouch was unable to obtain a permit.
The driver completed the course in about 9 minutes, reaching nearly 140 MPH in some stretches. The footage reveals him running real red lights, nearly hitting real pedestrians, and driving the wrong way up real one-way streets.

Upon showing the film in public for the first time, Lelouch was arrested. He has never revealed the identity of the driver, and the film went underground until this DVD release.
Find it hard to believe that the folks at Cannes wouldn't have seen through Lelouche's "nom de movie" pretty quickly as he used variations on his "Rendezvous" shot throughout Roman de Guerre, and I'm pretty sure that he's used it in other films - I seem to remmember a cop film , where he had the camera mounted on the handlebars (probably Cat and Mouse 1975)

4:08 AM  
Blogger Fantastic Forrest said...

Loved your discussion of Rendezvous.

I'll be using your blog as a reference for cool stuff in the future. I'll also peek in whenever I need a big smile.

7:47 PM  
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5:10 AM  

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