" For your information, my life is a living Hell "
— Elizabeth Hurley (as the devil), Bedazzled

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

Sponsored links

“I wanted to be loved, and the opposite happens.”

That’s what Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), the girl on the train, learned when she cried wolf.

The French probably remember the incident. Five years ago, a girl claimed she was the victim of a hate crime. Youths, she said, attacked her on a train early in the morning, shouting anti-Semitic slogans at her, scratching her face, and drawing swastikas on her torso. The public later learned it was a hoax; she had made it all up.

Job Searching

Even her family doesn't believe Jeanne
Even her family doesn’t believe Jeanne

André Téchiné breaks his film into two parts: Circumstances and Consequences. We never see Jeanne cry wolf, which is a smart decision on Téchiné’s part. The Girl on the Train is ultimately about growing up and taking responsibility. It’s not a simple morality play; it’s more an illustration of why we make mistakes and what it takes to move past them.

The movie is well acted, with some interesting emotional insights. Take Jeanne’s boyfriend, a wrestler. As youths, he and Jeanne make a cute couple. Both are on the verge of adulthood, but aren’t quite there yet. He meets Jeanne and her mother, wearing a suit and tie and putting on his best airs. But even if Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle) proves to be a great wrestler, his prospects are still very thin.

Jeanne, too, is more eager than ready to be an adult. She needs a job and is having a hard time finding one. We get to see her at a job interview, and she doesn’t seem particularly qualified.

Perhaps that’s why Franck takes a shady, cash-only job overseeing a warehouse. Jeanne agrees to live there with him, and together they will give the appearance of a happy, legitimate couple overseeing a legitimate business. Jeanne fails to ask where the money will be coming from, or why someone would want the appearance of legitimacy. Perhaps it’s their own sense of entitlement that blinds them to the black market they’re entering. They think of themselves as smart, driven, and willing to work, and yet the world at large isn’t accommodating them well enough. Why not go with the businessman who obviously knows a good thing when he sees it?

The underworld comes calling, and Franck ends up severely wounded by a “customer.” The police get involved. That’s when Franck learns that Jeanne never really had that job with the lawyer she said she had. The strong wrestler, now in a hospital bed, begins to cry when he thinks about it. Even though he is the one who started the relationship, he now says that he wishes he never met her because her lies got him where he is now. It doesn’t really make sense, but it’s a devastating thing for a teenage girl to hear, and it may be the thing that sends her over the edge.

Extended Family

Catherine Deneuve is still working hard in French Cinema. She plays Jeanne’s mother. Together they live in a nice-but-not-wealthy suburb of Paris. She makes money by taking care of other people’s kids. Back in her own youth she came to know Bleistein, the lawyer Jeanne said she worked for. Bleistein loved Jeanne’s mother back then, and had they ended up together, Jeanne really could have had the sort of life of wealth and opportunity she wants.

The movie even introduces us to Bleistein’s family. His son is having marital problems, and his grandson is putting up gamely with the demands from his family. Whether Bleistein’s subplot is included for texture or for contrast, I’m not sure, but the grandson serves as an example to Jeanne when they eventually meet. Even though he’s years younger than her, they grow up into adults at the same time.

Not So Hard to Understand

Jeanne seems thinks she is less fortunate than everyone else — in Jeanne’s case, it’s those lucky Holocaust survivors who get all the good attention. Shame on her for thinking it, but there you have it. It’s not something that normal, emotionally healthy people do, but it’s not so unheard-of, either; look at Colorado’s “Balloon Boy” family, or the woman who drowned her children and blamed it on a “black man.”

The Girl on the Train, thankfully, isn’t just content to explain the motives for publicity seekers. The second part of the film demands that Jeanne face the consequences and become an adult. There is no melodrama here. Jeanne’s friends and family can tell that her story doesn’t make sense, but they don’t apologize for her, nor force her into a confession she isn’t ready to make. They wait her out, with some impatience, until she’s ready to ‘fess up and take her lumps.

Jeanne is a little enigmatic, though. The Girl on the Train never explicitly puts us inside her head. But through her interactions and behavior we do get a sense of her. She’s slightly unstable and angst-ridden. She’s not deeply troubled, nor popular nor brilliant; she’s in that middle ground, probably feeling invisible.

But in the last part, she does manage to own up and grow up. The final shot shows her rollerskating alone, still a girl, but not so childish as she had been, and finally propelling herself forwards.