L'Homme Du Train (DVD)

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L'Homme Du Train (DVD)

This quaint and amusing tale from director Patrice Leconte pairs Milan (Johnny Hallyday), a nomadic urban cowboy, with Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), a ...

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Review of "L'Homme Du Train (DVD)"

published 16/09/2005 | frkurt
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"A minor gem..."

Like many French films, this one draws in many timeless themes.

--The Road Not Taken--
We have the issue of the road not taken - the question `What if?' hangs over both the main characters from start to finish. Manesquier has led a comfortable if not entirely satisfying life for half a century in a quiet village. However, he has his dreams, dreams of action. Milan perhaps didn't dream of much until he saw that stability was possible - there were places in the world where doors were left unlocked, and strangers were welcomed.

--Opposites Attract--
There is also the issue of opposites attracting, and the basic feature of human nature of wanting what we don't have - the-grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Manesquier is intrigued by the mysterious drifter Milan; the more he learns, the more eager he is to adopt his recklessness. Manesquier, on the other hand, has stability and subtle concerns that Milan has not experienced, and which provide a tempting sweetness. The poem Manesquier is teaching his young charge near the beginning of the film warns against complacency in sweetness; Milan understands this, even has he adopts Manesquier's lifestyle so thoroughly as to become the new tutor to the student.

--The Odd Couple--
Manesquier and Milan are a classic odd couple. One is educated, the other is not. However, the uneducated Milan is not unintelligent, and has a poet's soul. The perhaps-overeducated Manesquier, on the other hand, longs for the recklessness of a cowboy who fires pistols and dresses in leather jackets with fringe. Manesquier teaches Milan to eat proper meals and look for deeper meanings in feelings and poetry; Milan gives Manesquier the experience of firing a handgun, plotting a bank robbery (which Manesquier confesses has been a fantasy for 30 years) and expressing his true feelings toward others.

--Little Things Mean A Lot--
Manesquier is taken by little things in Milan's behaviour and being. Milan is mysterious, a great change from the changeless pattern of life in the sleepy provincial French village. His leather jacket, his ability to swig cognac, even his vocal patterns - these intrigue Manesquier. The simple things of Manesquier's life - wearing slippers, having a bath, smoking a pipe - are beyond Milan's tempestuous existence, and Milan yearns for more normalcy.

--The More Things Change...--
At the start of the film, one can be forgiven for believing that Manesquier is the coward, the one resistant or even afraid of change. Yet we come to understand also that Milan, the drifter, the thief, the impervious one, is also afraid to change, even when it is offered freely, as in Manesquier's offer of money instead of the robbery. Milan rejects it. He is as trapped by his life as is the poet Manesquier; ironically, one comes to see that Manesquier is more open to change - his scene in the restaurant attempting to start a fight attests to this, but the courage to change has come late in life, perhaps too late. Manesquier is very brave to take in the stranger Milan in the first place, the first indication that he's ready to change. Yet, things remain the same. Even as Milan and Manesquier grasp aspects of each other's lives (such as Milan shaving his goatee to look more like Manesquier, and Manesquier getting a haircut to look like Milan), things remain the same.

--The Essence of French Cinema--
It is almost essential to the best of French films that they have enigmatic endings, and this film fulfills that task. Do Manesquier and Milan trade places or not? Both are grasping at hope that seems to be embodied in the other, but neither quite attainable.

The cinematography is a bit grainy and dark, just as the cloud hanging over the characters is likewise grainy and dark. The sets are perfect accompaniment to the characters - tattered elegance for the poet, and stark plain-ness for the drifter. Manesquier is performed by Jean Rochefort, and Milan is performed by Johnny Hallyday, who give perfectly complementary performances, establishing their own identities and then losing them in each other quickly as the drama progresses.

Not much of physical substance happens in the film until near the end; rather, the change is spiritual and psychological, with most of the `action' taking place in conversation and nuanced scenes of metamorphosis.

Director Patrice Leconte has produced a minor gem here.

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Comments on this review

  • dakota196 published 18/10/2005
    There was a good moment of black humour in this film (which I saw at the Fargo Theater, ND, bizarrely). The one guy says 'were you a good teacher?' and the other guy replies by saying something like 'I was never accused of molesting any students' - the quote worked better in French! Great review :) Emma
  • electricfrog5 published 25/09/2005
    Sounds fantastic. I love french films. L xx
  • marylou2u published 17/09/2005
    Enjoyed reading that, I'm intrigued now by the way you wrote it in that style, much better than a blow by blow account of the whole film like most reviews.
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This quaint and amusing tale from director Patrice Leconte pairs Milan (Johnny Hallyday), a nomadic urban cowboy, with Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), a reserved and very settled curmudgeon. The two meet on the train in a French suburb, and before long the overly trusting Manesquier has invited Milan to be his house guest because the local hotels are closed for the night. The two men cautiously get to know each other, and they find that they have many things in common, even though they appear on the surface to be utter opposites. But deep down, they both desire to live life in the shoes of the other, even if just for a short period of time. And in a subtle, mutually understood way, they do just that.

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Listed on Ciao since: 13/09/2005