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Brandon Judell

Roman de gare : A Man, A Woman, and Too Much Plot


© Les Films 13

Roman de Gare
Director/writer/producer: Claude Lelouch
Executive producer: Remi Bergman
Cast: Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana, Michele Bernier, Thomas Le Douarec


Who is the unshaven stranger (Dominique Pinon) driving down the highway in Claude Lelouch's latest celluloid mystery, "Roman de gare"?

Is he a pedophilic prison escapee who plies his victims with magic tricks? Or an unhappy professor running away from a sterile home life just before his tenth wedding anniversary? Or is this bedraggled soul a ghostwriter of bestselling murder mysteries for the highly adulated and extremely wealthy Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant)?

Or is he all three?

And what will occur when this villain or Samaritan picks up a stranded Huguette (Audrey Dana), the self-declared "airhead" of a hairdresser, at a rest stop and drives her to her parents' farm? Posing as her fiancé at her request, will he wind up slaughtering her family and molesting her daughter? What would be a more befitting recompense for a woman who's boasted hours earlier, "I shampooed Princess Diana twenty-four hours before she died"?

Minutes tick by, and no bloodletting.

Yes, the unknown man is alone with Huguette's preteen, supposedly fishing.

A hog squeals out a piercing death cry, and Huguette suddenly realizes she doesn't know anything about the newcomer in her life who's chaperoning her teen.

Several hours tick by and . . .

Please! Won't someone be kind enough to die already? And where's Agatha Christie when you need her?

To reveal more would be unfair, especially if you're one of the twenty or so people in the States who are devoted Lelouch fans, a director best known here for his Oscar-winning "A Man and a Woman." The latter was the date film of 1966, one more called to mind nowadays for its addictive soundtrack than for its mise-en-scene.

Lelouch, who directed "Roman de gare" under a pseudonym because of the less than spectacular reviews critics have been greeting his recent output with, will not grow in repute with this effort. The story is convoluted when not static, and the first half hour is especially grating, with special thanks going to the dreadful tunes recorded by Gilbert Becaud early in his career that continually blast forth from the car radio of the possible killer/spouse/writer.

Further torpedoing this offering is the calamitous casting of Pinon as the male lead. This often exceptional actor, who's been a treat in "Diva," "City of Lost Children," "Delicatessen," and much other French fare, however, is not a proper romantic lead in a film not aching for comedy or pathos.

Visually, he comes off as a Gallic Popeye. Consequently, watching women bed him willingly and with some vigor is a bit of a stretch of the imagination. An actor such as Daniel Auteil would have made a world of difference here.

And a tighter screenplay with several less red herrings would not have hurt either.

But there's no doubt that this is the film Lelouch wanted to make. As he's noted, "I see life as a puzzle. You need an entire life to discover all of its pieces. A film is also a puzzle, with a beginning, a middle and an end, but I like to start at the end sometimes."

Wherever you begin, though, a thriller's true finale can make or break it, and "Roman de gare's" payoff will leave you feeling inordinately shortchanged.


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