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It’s mid-autumn when Milan (Johnny Hallyday) takes the train to a small French town as the advance man in a small gang planning to rob the sleepy local bank. With the town’s hotel closed for the season, he is offered a room by ageing bachelor and local poetry teacher, Monsieur Manesquier (Jean Rochefort). Over the course of a couple of days, while the robbery date approaches, the unlikely pair with contrasting lives and pasts, begin to form a bond. They even imagine how each could have enjoyed the other’s, very different life – and maybe they still can. 

Review by Andrew L. Urban: 
Leconte took his raw idea to Klotz for development: a clash of cultures and styles as represented by Hallyday and Rochefort. Halliday is the action man, the adventurer: non-conformist, bohemian, edgy and laconic. Rochefort is the planner (he has three of everything in his bathroom, for example): conservative, careful, retiring, safe and habitual. It’s a perfect odd couple set up, but Leconte is not setting them up for a series of ‘clashing personality’ gags. He wants to explore the deeper issues of what the characters actually want at this stage of their lives. Of course there is humour, but it’s subtle and satisfying rather than simple and fleeting. 

The two opposites display the strictly human tendencies of wanting what they don’t have: exactly what the other has done with their life. The script is iridescent with observation and truth, peppered with delicious dialogue despite the fact that Milan is so laconic that when he actually puts an entire sentence together it seems like a speech. Both actors relish the chance to dig deep and work across each other’s personal and professional styles; that’s where most of the satisfaction comes for the audience. The sense of intimacy achieved by Leconte, thanks to both his cameraman and composer, is an example of the power of cinema to drill into our psyche and the mood of the film lingers hauntingly. The ending is a little strange, but for me it underscores the simple idea that Leconte is trying to convey. It isn’t the obvious; it’s like the realisation of the fantasy of how we might change our lives. The film has a light touch, and loads of irresistible charm.

Review by Louise Keller:
There are two kinds of men, we are told. One kind keeps two toothbrushes and carefully plans his life; the other loses his toothbrush and is an adventurer. Patrice Leconte’s Man on the Train introduces us to two such men – a poetry teacher and a bank robber – in this sublimely humorous and engaging film about two men at the crossroads. Their two worlds collide when they meet, and although they are so different, they connect instinctively. The respect each feels for the other is tinged with envy, as they both recognise wistfully how different life might have been had they taken a different path. Although at first their differences are highlighted, very soon, they find themselves in the other’s shoes – literally. When Milan asks if he can borrow Manesquier’s slippers, it’s not because he needs them, but because he has never worn slippers. And when Manesquier tries on Milan’s leather jacket and turns up the collar, he peers in the mirror, fantasising that he is Wyatt Earp. Both men are a paradox and we are fascinated as we learn more and more about them. 

It’s a superbly economical script and the casting of French icon Johnny Hallyday and acclaimed 72 year old thesp, Jean Rochefort, is a masterstroke. Hallyday’s Milan is the epitome of a modern-day cowboy, while Rochefort’s Manesquier is a serene and elegant gentleman from another era. Manesquier talks incessantly and leads a leisurely semi-retired life playing the piano, reading, teaching a solitary student poetry; his greatest challenge is to complete the huge jigsaw on his dining room table. His fear is change, even though he dreams of robbing a bank and fleeing to the Bahamas in a white suit and wearing a sun tan. Milan dreams of poetry and slips surprisingly easily into the role of tutor when a young student of Manesquier’s talks about Balzac’s heroine. But there’s a moment when they both embrace change, and although their paths are set, they still have a fleeting chance at glimpsing what could have been. 

Concise editing juxtaposes scenes of the two men at crucial moments as they face their destiny. No detail has been spared in perfecting the contrast of styles between the two men. There are even two distinctive musical themes from composer Pascal Esteve, who combines bluesy guitar twangs with the elegance of classical music. Leconte reportedly briefed Esteve by telling him ‘Johnny Hallyday is Ry Cooder; Jean Rochefort is Schubert’. In the opening scenes, as Milan gets off the train, we can be forgiven for thinking of him as a character from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, with the de-saturated film stock offering a blue stylised look. An amusing, insightful and touching tale about friendship and regret, Man on the Train is a degustation for the connoisseur.

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L'Homme Du Train

CAST: Jean Rochefort, Johnny Hallyday, Jean-Francois Stévanin, Charlie Nelson, Pascal Parmentier, Edith Scob

PRODUCER: Philippe Carcassonne

DIRECTOR: Patrice Leconte

SCRIPT: Claude Klotz


EDITOR: Joelle Hache

MUSIC: Pascal Estève


RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes




VIDEO RELEASE: January 15, 2004

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