'The Girl on the Train': Not Terrible, But Not First-Rate

By Ed Koch
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Manohla Dargis's favorable review of this movie in The New York Times--one of those amorphous kudos--was, in my opinion, undeserved. She wrote: "The film can be described as a character study or a fictionalized slice of terribly real life. Mostly, though, it is an inquiry into the mysteries of other people."

While not a terrible picture, this is certainly not a first-rate movie. The narrative consists of several stories and subplots, and the main characters in each are linked to one another. Those subplots, however, are not fleshed out in the style of Robert Altman's film "Short Cuts."

The main character in The Girl on the Train is Jeanne (Emilie Dequenne), who is unemployed and lives with her mother, Louise (Catherine Deneuve). On one of her skating jaunts, Jeanne meets the charming but threatening Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), and is smitten by him. We learn that Franck, who is covered with tattoos, has been in prison.

Although Jeanne has few secretarial skills, she applies for an office position with a well-regarded lawyer, Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), and his office manager, Judith (Ronit Elkabetz). Years ago, Samuel was in love with Jeanne's mother, Louise, before she married her now-deceased husband who was a close friend of Bleistein. Bleistein's son, Alex (Mathieu Demy), is divorced from Judith. Their son, Nathan (Jeremy Quaegebeur), is about to be bar mitzvahed.

Later in the movie, Jeanne, who is not Jewish, tells the police that she was attacked by Muslims (North Africans) on a train who tore off her clothes and daubed swastikas into her flesh. That incident was investigated and proven false, and in the movie we see Jeanne inflict the wounds on herself.

Manohla Dargis lovingly described this mishmash. Of its director, Andre Techine, she wrote: "He likes to linger in the spaces in between. Some of this lingering might be mistaken for narrative slackness--he repeatedly shows Jeanne rollerblading to nowhere--but these in-between moments seem as revealing as what the characters say, sometimes more so. Mr. Techine isn't pretending that he understands what people do. But by showing us what they do, the flowers they pick and the people they love, he makes us notice them more intently."

Baloney. The movie is made up of unfulfilled possibilities. Some of the scenes are interesting, but a film with a solid story it is not. (In French and Hebrew, with English subtitles.)

I saw the film at City Cinemas 1-2-3 on Third Avenue at 60th Street.

HS said: "This movie makes sense if it is a reasonable recounting of the contrived anti-Semitic incident. We don't know. If not, it is simply an entertaining slice of life picture, well photographed and acted, a plot totally unlikely to have occurred, but so what? The title is irrelevant to the plot; there are periodic shots of speeding railways cars, which I took as Freudian. 'Murder on the Orient Express,' this film is definitely not. But it is one movie that presents Jews in a favorable light, (best bar mitzvah scene since "Sunday Bloody Sunday") and we should be thankful for that."

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