Published May 01, 2003Man on the Train, the latest film by prolific French filmmaker Patrice Leconte, is a rich fusion of opposites. A film about destiny and death, it is also much funnier than many comedies, and although it features legendary French rock star Johnny Hallyday and iconic French actor Jean Rochefort, it in no way feels like a star vehicle. The performances are masterly and understated, but along with brilliant writing and an intriguing and sometimes suspenseful plot, they often take second place to the exceptional sound recording and mixing.
Milan, Hallyday's character, is a laconic drifter who arrives by train in a French town at evening. To a twanging guitar accompaniment he walks through the deserted streets in his leather jacket and boots the analogy to a cowboy is unmistakable. By an unlikely turn of events he is thrown into the company of an eccentric inhabitant of the town, Manesquier (Rochefort) and upon discovering the hotel closed for the season, is inconvenienced into accepting the older man's invitation of hospitality.
Manesquier, a retired French poetry teacher, has seen little change in his life, as has the ancestral home where he lives amidst the clutter of several generations. He is immediately attracted by the mysterious Milan, whom he perceives to be a man of action. When Milan asks him why he has two toothbrushes, Manesquier replies that there are two kinds of men, the adventurers, who have one toothbrush, and the planners, who have two. Then he confesses that he has three. Eventually both men see in the other a realisation of what they have missed in life; they learn that a life is not rerouted by small gestures and also discover that they are not as limited as they believed themselves to be.
Milan follows through on his plans to execute a crime, and in more conventional hands this would have become the source of culminating suspense, but Man on the Train is not about action. It is about perception and how we feel we exist. Leconte stays true to the broad and complex rhythms already established, rhythms that are rich in contrast but remain as consistent as a heartbeat right through to the end of the closing credits. (Paramount)