The Man on the Train (12a)

Feb 09, 2005
Cranbrook Film Society

CFS has screened two films directed by veteran filmmaker, Patrice Leconte, Ridicule and The Girl on the Bridge, and as with these films a current of sardonic wit runs through L’Homme du Train.

At a deserted train station, a teacher and a gangster meet and realise that each might have been better suited to the other man’s way of life.

L’Homme du Train is a mismatched buddy film in which two seemingly incompatible individuals develop a deep but unlikely bond.

Manesquier is an elderly gentleman whose life is a series of comfortable routines. He lives in a large, crumbling house that has been allowed to go to rack and ruin. A retired teacher, he keeps in touch with his roots by tutoring an occasional student. Everything in his life is well-ordered, and one gets the impression that perhaps no one will miss him if he were to vanish.

The other protagonist is the title character, Milan, a late middle-aged thief who has come to Manesquier’s small town to reunite with some old business acquaintances and rob the local bank. Milan is a gruff loner; a drifter with no home.

The two meet one night in a pharmacy, and when Milan finds the village’s only hotel closed, he asks Manesquier for a room. The older man is happy to have the company. The only payment he requires from his visitor is that he listens to his nearly non-stop chatter. Milan isn’t much of a talker, so their early conversations consist of Manesquier speaking and Milan listening. After a while Milan opens up and the two develop a bond of genuine friendship. Both are aware that their days together are numbered. On Saturday morning, at approximately the same time, Milan will rob the bank and leave town, and Manesquier will go into hospital for a triple bypass.

The relationship between the two is simple and straightforward. They enjoy each other’s company, appreciate talking about everything from the mundane to the all-important while they smoke or stare at the stars, and find inspiration in being together.

Manesquier recites poetry and imparts bits of esoteric knowledge to Milan, while Milan tries to teach Manesquier how to shoot a gun. Neither judges the other. Manesquier knows why Milan is here and rather than dissuade him, he merely regrets that he is not healthy enough to provide assistance.

At age 73, Jean Rochefort’s filmography lists more than a hundred credits, including Leconte’s Ridicule and The Hairdresser’s Husband. French rock star Johnny Hallyday has less film experience, but Rochefort never eclipses him. They inhabit their characters and act the parts with simple, honest conviction.

The genre straddles the line between comedy and drama. A character study that, even in its darkest moments, never takes things too seriously.

It is rare to find a film that is about male friendship, uncomplicated by sex or romance. These men become friends because each recognises the character of the other. Leconte brings his film to a transcendent end underlining the closeness of the characters and without relying on stale plot devices. He resorts more to poetry.

When the film has finished you want to sigh with relief that in this cruel world such civilisation is still possible.

Patrice Leconte | France | 2002 | 90 minutes | 12a