Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:19 am 
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[This review was posted earlier on Filmleaf during the Rendez-Vous at Lincoln Center in February 2009 but I neglected to post it here.]


Stabbings, lies, and a bar mitzvah

This Techine "issue" film is based on an actual news story of a young woman who pretended to have suffered an anti-Semitic attack on an RER (Reseau Express Regional) train that connects Paris with the surrounding regions. The story was originally adapted for the theater by Jean-Marie Besset and watching Besset's play gave Techine the idea for this quickly-shot film.

There's much to like, not least of which is a cast that includes Francophone megastars Michel Blanc and (Techine regular) Catherine Deneuve (as old friends) and lively young actors Nicolas Duvauchelle (of Les corps impatients) and Emilie Dequenne (star of the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta). This director is always good at juggling social levels and relationships (see Les Voleurs). But the subject matter seems forced and not super-relevant, a problem also of The Witnesses, but this time the issues arise in a way that makes them seem much less urgent than the AIDS crisis. Why does Jeanne (Dequenne) make up this story? What are its ramifications for actual Jews victimized by anti-Semites--and for the level of anti-Semitism in Europe and the world today? To what extent are individuals more victimized than ever by media invasions of privacy? These aren't questions that get sufficiently explored, either on a personal or a collective level. As a result viewers will experience a complicated set of characters they care about only intermittently, and a central event whose motivation is too vague to make it emotionally involving.

Jeanne lives with her mother Louise (Deneuve) in a house with a garden in the suburbs of Paris very near the RER line. They get along really well. Louise earns a living minding children. Jeanne is looking for work, but not very energetically. Louise reads a web notice one day that gives her the fantasy that she can get Jeanne a job working for a famous lawyer, Samuel Bleinstein (Blanc), because she knew him well when they were very young. Jeanne gets an interview. It's not very promising. But she and Louise are going to get plenty of quality time with Bleinstein after Jeanne's lie comes out.

Before that, an online meeting: Jeanne connects in a chat-room with Frank (Duvachelle), a tattooed martial arts champion whose background may be dodgier than she realizes, but who is clearly more motivated than her because of his credible pro-sport ambitions. Jeanne and Frank have a roller-blade date and hit it off pretty fast. Before long Jeanne's not only sleeping over with Frank but sharing the responsibility of minding a mysterious electronics warehouse whose owner is away. It turns out the warehouse holds something other than electronics, and Frank's uncooperativeness with some gangster types causes him to wind up in the hospital with a potentially fatal stab wound. Frank, who has already been troubled by Jeanne's habit of lying, decides his involvement with her isn't good for either of them. It's in the wake of Frank's rejection that Jeanne cuts herself and paints on swastikas with a felt pen, then goes to the police with an invented story of being assaulted on the RER by racist anti-Semites.

Somewhat to Jeanne's shock, her story arouses an immediate and rapidly metastasizing media frenzy. She is soon forced to admit her lie. This gets her in trouble with the law. This in turn leads Louise to call on her old friend Samuel, whom she's newly aware of from finding the job at his office on the Internet. We get scenes of Samuel's extended family, a Jewish family, whose members are debating over the coming bar mitzvah of young Nathan. (The young actor has a strong presence; I can't find his name in the casting list. But his father Alex is played by Mathieu Demy and his mother Judith by the vivid Ronit Elkabetz.)

La fille du RER (film's French title) is meant to creep up on you. Perhaps to avoid being stamped "thriller" or "crime story," but also to show how violence can pop up unexpectedly in what seem everyday lives, it meanders for an hour before Frank's stabbing. Throughout, the film explores semi-chance interconnections of different people with complex family ties--and some, like Frank, who're estranged from any family--in a world where violence can strike all of a sudden, and is so ever-present it becomes a tool to be used by a young woman to get attention. In her search for identity--missing perhaps due to the absence of her father and the lack of any commitment to work--Jeanne seeks an artificial identity in pretending to be Jewish and a victim of violence. As Stephen Holden notes in his NYTimes Rendez-Vous roundup, "Mr. Techine shows his special empathy for the ways youthful impatience can trigger impulsively self-destructive behavior." For young Nathan, identity is being presented on a silver platter in the traditional coming-of-age ritual of a bar mitzvah.

Julien Hirsch is responsible for the film's bright, beautiful look. Costume designer Radija Zeggai gets the credit one assumes, for Deneuve's wonderfully frumpy-chic outfits.

The film is scheduled for French release March 18, 2009. Its showing in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center is its world premiere.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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