Writer/director Patrice Leconte is one of the most consummate filmmakers in recent years. If he has made a bad film, I have yet to see it. With such films to his credit as Monsieur Hire, The Hairdressers Husband (Le Mari de la Coiffeuse), Ridicule, and The Widow of Saint-Pierre (La Veuve de Saint-Pierre), Leconte has demonstrated and absolute mastery of his art form. Leconte exhibits great versatility by constantly exploring different genres and periods, making each of his films a completely unique experience. His narratives are delivered with such subtlety, yet they are so rich in content. Film style as sophisticated as Lecontes has not been seen since David Lean or Franois Truffaut. His work is so clearly informed by solitary vision it is though he has enveloped each scene with his soul. He is an artist of the highest caliber, to whom one could apply the label of genius without fear of exaggeration. In short, I sort of like him.
The Man on the Train (L Homme du Train) could be Lecontes most significant film since Ridicule, a picture which gained him critical acclaim and international recognition, not to mention a few awards. Although The Man on the Train may not carry the erudite, cultured weightiness of his period pieces, such as Ridicule or The Widow of Saint-Pierre, it retains the same witty social commentary, thoughtful and thorough character development, and technical brilliance of these earlier works; which is slightly surprising, considering it is essentially a buddy moviean existential, intellectual, French buddy movie, but a buddy movie nonetheless.
In summarizing The Man on the Train, one hesitates to reveal too many details. The small discoveries in this film are so integral to the overall experience. It is a basic odd-couple premise but with unique twists and artistic flare. It is the story of two men, one a retired poetry teacher, Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), the other a middle-aged thief, Milan (Johnny Hallyday). They meet on a train bound for a sleepy French village. One man is simply returning home; the other has plans to rob the bank. The only hotel in town is closed, so with no place to stay, Milan accepts Manesquiers offer of lodging. Over the week that follows, the two form a strange and reluctant friendship. As their secrets are gradually revealed, the two men begin to envy each other and wonder what life would be like to be in the shoes of the man on the train. An osmosis of personality occurs as Milan and Manesquier begin to act out the others lives, exercising their regret and exploring the life that could have been.
The performances by Rochefort and Hallyday are awe-inspiring. They have an unbelievable chemistry that enhances the script, making the story come alive. Seldom have I experienced a film that was so satisfying and so inspiring that I wanted to recommend it to complete strangers. The Man on the Train is such a film.
French with English subtitles. Rated R for some language and brief violence.
Reviewed by Maggie