'L'homme du Train' AKA 'The Man on the Train' is fantastic. There is a very simple story line, only 2 main characters but the story is a very intriguing one with two very famous French stars - Jean Rochefort, a very famous actor and Johnny Hallyday, the biggest French rock star so really a winning combination. Directed by Patrice Leconte who also directed 'Ridicule' and 'Girl on the Bridge'.
Milan (Hallyday) is on a train journey, his head aches from the ride. At his stop he goes to the chemist and meets a local (Rochefort). The town is deserted so the local offers him a place to stay and no doubt is enjoying the company. The town is a small one, very trusting - the locals don't lock their doors - very temping for any outsider to come in. The men are both rather mysterious claiming they both have something to do on the Saturday but the plans are not revealed until nearer the end (clues are given). The strangers will part on this day but during the course of the few days they are together, they each show changes becoming more like each other and needing one another. The plans take the story on a twist - simple yet complicated and result in a more than satisfactory ending.
The film seemed quite slow to start. No words are spoken while all the credits flash up on screen and the opening scene is introduced - on the train with the sound of the train on the rails. This quickly changes after the opening scene which was a relief. The story is actually quite a strange one. I mean, would you invite a complete stranger into your home when they look like quite a dodgy character. They could be a mass murderer! On the other hand, Manesquier is also quite a strange character, he may lead a quiet life but he puts himself in compromising positions but life is kind to him much to his despair.
The characters in this film are all very good in there roles of course there isn't just Milan and Manesquier. Milan's plans on the Saturday involve three other characters who seem to be even rougher than he is! One only says one sentence a day at 10 a.m., the other a drinker and the third is getting fatter. Gladly these characters are not seen more often in the film because it is Milan and Manesquier that have a certain bond within the film. As the film progresses it is easy to see these two forming a relationship and is almost gut wrenching when they part Manesquier just looks so lonely! Surprisingly it is actually Manesquier who attracts the women - his love is Viviane but like Milan's gang, she takes a back role and is not introduced until well into the story.
Throughout the film the story was not so obvious that it could have been guessed as to what was about to come and something I really enjoyed about it. It took certain twists and turns - would Milan's plans even go ahead? This meant that without knowing what was going to happen, the ending couldn't be guessed either. It may be slow to start but it seems to finish quite quickly once it gets going. There is a certain humour in the film even though it is not laugh out loud comedy. It has a certain charm about it.
Milan is played by Johnny Hallyday who is one of France's biggest Rock stars. He plays a rough character - unshaven, leather jacket and a typical gangster type appeal. He is quiet - never asks questions and keeps himself to himself. His life is full of excitement but more of a curse than a blessing. He longs for a quiet life - the life M. Manesquier leads. I love his character. Milan has a heart even if his outer appearance doesn't show it. The quotes he gives, his interest in poetry, the way the character develops proves this. I have seen Johnny Hallyday in quite a few films now - Detective, Crime Spree he always plays similar characters but there is something more loveable about him in this film. He can act even though his Rock Star background still takes top position over it and some say they prefer him singing but I wouldn't miss his acting.
This was one of the best quotes I liked in the film and is also shown on the trailer for the film (in English):
Milan: Can you lend me some slippers?
Manesquier: Do your feet hurt?
Milan: I've never tried them.
It just shows how Milan's character develops in the film - his exterior may seem tough but he wants to know what this other life could be like.
M. Manesquier is played by Jean Rochefort - I can't say I have seen Rochefort in any other French films (I haven't seen that many!). Manesquier is the complete opposite of Milan in every way possible - a very boring character, reminds me a little of a butler in the way he dresses, he was a teacher but still teaches French poetry (imagine our English teachers). He can recite poetry, he lives in an old house filled with antiques and his life has no excitement but he dreams of taking a much more dangerous role in life the life Milan currently leads. The external frame of the character appears frail but is a lot tougher and does stand up for himself by create confrontational situations but luck is not on his side and all he is shown is friendliness. I have to admit I absolutely think Rochefort is fantastic in his role. I know the story; I know the characters yet seeing Rochefort's face, his reactions still evokes so much emotion - especially at the point the two strangers have to part.
There is no place name mentioned in the film just that it is a quiet town but looking through the credits the filming is done in Annonay, the museum is in Lyon and some is also filmed in Tain-l'Hermitage. Quite a lot of the village is seen - one of the bakeries and the pharmacy at the beginning of the film which help a lot in placing the film because the rest of it doesn't really seem that modern. The prices used in the film are still in Francs, the characters dress in leather jackets which seem a little reminiscent of 'Grease' and Manesquier in his cardigans. Still with the Western music, it gives it that forgotten town feeling, I was just waiting on the tumbleweeds getting blown across the streets.
Superb! This is actually the first film I have seen in a long time with such a great picture. The picture is extremely clear and highly detailed (as seen in Manesquier's house). The picture actually takes on another quality. When there is any part of the film involving Milan, the screen takes on a bluish tint adding to the coldness of his character (his piercing blue eyes) and the fact that he couldn't care about another person. When the film involves Manesquier, this tint becomes yellow. This is best seen in Manesquier's home giving it a much warmer and homely feeling just as his character is kind and warm. When both characters are together, the tint remains yellow - Milan warms to Manesquier and as he takes over Manesquier's life, the blue tint slowly fades.
Just as picture quality, there are no problems here. This is a rather quite film so there isn't much shouting and no huge explosions to deafen the viewer. The music plays along in the background but whatever is happening in the picture always takes the prominent position.
The language is not that complicated even though it is all in French. For those who don't know any French, the subtitles are the saving point in the film. Although not completely literal (word for word), they accurately say in the best way they can what is meant to be said although I did notice a couple of parts where direct translation of the words could easily have been used. Even I found it quite difficult to keep up with the picture and reading at the same time the subtitles are a little further down from the actual picture so my eyes kept darting back up to see what was happening. There was no problem reading them though as some films stick white text against white backgrounds but I didn't notice that happening here at all. Unlike a few other films I've seen, the subtitles are constant so nothing is missed. Phrases in English such as the monologue with Rochefort near the beginning, are not subtitled.
The score is a huge plus in the film adding a lot to the feel of the picture. Although this is modern day France, the music is very Western and cowboy like but has a strange sort of Indian feeling. Close ups of Milan make him look a lot like Clint Eastwood and Manesquier does a little cowboy act during the film. There are quite a few pieces of music trough the film but it isn't just Western as Manesquier seems to be a talented piano player with a Schubert piece [Inpromptu En La Bémol Majeur No 2 (Opus 142)]. The OST can be bought but even searching French sites I can't find out what is on it.
I loved the film but any Hallyday fan may feel the same (even if he isn't as good an actor as singer). I really wouldn't recommend this film for action lovers - they will be bored! If a film can still get a feeling out of an audience even after watching it over and over it has to be good and I have always felt it with this one. The colour tints and character development mixed with the music in the film create a masterpiece so it may come as no surprise that this film got the Best Picture Award Venice and Rochefort claimed the Best Actor Award Venice in 2003 which was highly deserved. A French film I will be watching many times again (I just need to buy the DVD now!).
Length: 90 minutes
Price: Around £8 on DVD
Certificate: UK 12 (language and some violence)
In a small town in the French Alps, Monsieur Manesquier, a retired school teacher meets Milan, an ageing bank robber, in town to pull off a heist. With the town's only hotel being shut down for the season, Mass invites Milan to stay in his home. On paper the two men are opposites but, opening up to each other, they discover that not only do opposites can attract, but each holds a bizarre fascination for the other. Manesquier who has never left the family home in which he lives envies Milan's nomadic existence, full of danger and excitement. Milan teaches his host how to shoot while the old man loans him slippers (apparently this is very funny to the French - carpet slippers are, I'm told, the height of comedy in France ) and a pipe.
The following Saturday, Manesquier is due in hospital for bypass surgery; the same day as Milan's bank job. As the day of the robbery approaches Manesquier offers Milan money not to go through with the raid but Milan refuses. As Manesquier is being prepared for his operation, Milan and his accomplices are about to raid the bank
In one of my favourite movies, Educating Rita, Frank, the university tutor sets a question for garrulous mature student Rita - "How would you address the problems inherent in staging a production of Ibsen's 'Peer Gynt'?", to which Rita replies "Put it on the radio".
"L'Homme du Train" would be the perfect candidate for a movie better suited to being produced on radio though the reasons for this are also what make it such a simple and striking film. The film is, in essence, an exchange between the two main characters who realize through a process of listening and learning that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Despite the films setting, the director Patrice Leconte (who also directed French classic Monsieur Hire) does not exploit the scenery for the film. In fact, the pervading feeling is one of dullness, a one-horse town with little to offer. The characters walk through narrow streets and enter faceless shops and the background fades away when the men trudge through the town. There never seems to be any natural light in the film, the whole story is played out in the shadows. Visually there is little to stimulate the viewer, the strength of the film derives from the dialogue between the characters.
Milan is played by French heart-throb and former pop star Johnny Hallyday - a man who seems to have been around forever. He has considerably less of the dialogue than Jean Rochefort who plays Manesquier, but he carries off the role of the mysterious loner with some style. Rochefort is convincing as the old man living in his deceased mother's home but the relationship between the two becomes tiring because there is little other action. Had this been a British film I suspect some scenes would have worked better than is the case here; when Milan dons the slippers and Manesquier tries on Milan's stylish leather jacket the scene falls flat. I think that this is a case of the French taking it all a bit too seriously and the joke disappearing without a trace.
"L'Homme du Train" does have some redeeming features. The scenes in which the bank-robbers get together to plan the job but actually spend more time discussing art are very funny and typically French (the French art-house movie "Killing Zoe" springs to mind) and there are a couple of amusing scenes in the town's shops which have absolute killer lines. However, I felt that more could have been made of the dramatic potential of the heist; Leconte leaves this in the background and does not capitalize on what is really the only really dramatic scene available.
The soundtrack also salvages a little. Far from being typically French, the repetitive slide guitar of the soundtrack is more reminscent of a western than a European art-house film but it is appropriate for this out of the way town and the smouldering Milan.
If you enjoy French movies you'll probably like this; the trademark characteristics of French arthouse films are here in abundance - thought-provoking dialogue, sombre backgrounds, avant garde music....Lovers of action films should avoid this one or at least use the opprotunity of a couple of hours sleep!
In French with English subtitles
Note - I have recommended this on the assumption that the reader enjoys this kind of film. As an arthouse movie it is average, as part of a wider range of films I would be less likely to recommend.
You wouldn't think that a movie, which mostly consists of two old guys talking could be a thriller, but that's exactly what L'Homme du Train is. French singer Johnny Hallyday plays a professional criminal who comes to a small town to take part in a robbery. By chance, he meets talkative Jean Rochefort, who invites the laconic Hallyday to stay at his house because the hotel is closed. The two form an unlikely friendship, each curious about (and envious of) the other's life. But all the while plans for the robbery continue, while Rochefort is preparing for a dangerous event of his own. The pitch-perfect performances make L'Homme du Train completely involving. Rochefort and Hallyday play off of each other beautifully; it's impossible to put your finger on what makes these subtle, supple scenes so magnetic. The whole is directed with spare authority by Patrice Leconte (La Veuve de Saint-Pierre). --Bret Fetzer