The Girl on the Train (La fille dur RER) was inspired by an infamous case in Paris in 2004, when a young woman told police she had been the victim of a vicious anti-semitic attack, then later recanted and admitted she had made the whole thing up.
The story exploded into a media sensation, fanning the increasing prejudice against Jews in France. But in The Girl on the Train, the great director Andre Techine (Wild Reeds, Les Voleurs, My Favorite Season) dramatizes the case with a focus on human behavior and familial relationships, not social commentary. Jeanne (Emilie Dequenne) is a beautiful young woman who lacks drive and direction. She agrees to go on a job interview only at the insistence of her widowed mother Louise (Catherine Deneuve), who is troubled by her daughter's lack of ambition.
Then Jeanne meets Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a wrestler training for the national Olympic team. Franck is handsome, street smart and persistent, and although there's something vaguely ominous, even threatening, about him, he woos Jeanne and wins her over. When a shop owner hires them to take care of his property while he's gone, they move in together.
For more than an hour, The Girl on the Train plays out as a captivating, trenchant drama about ordinary people who balance family lives with personal aspirations. A separate storyline involving Samuel (Michel Blanc), a wealthy lawyer with problems with his son, runs parallel to the main plot but doesn't seem to bear much relevance.
But after a startling act of violence, the strands coalesce into an absorbing whole. Techine shoots certain scenes in long takes, letting the camera settle on the faces of his superb cast, and he throws in beautiful little touches, such as a late-night online chat between Jeanne and Franck in which you don't see what they are typing to each other; you only see their webcam images. Instead of just telling us, The Girl on the Train shows us why Jeanne did what she did and the impact her actions had on the people around her. Like Techine's best films, the movie appears to be a story about nothing - until it suddenly becomes a meditation on the vagaries of the human heart.
The Girl on the Train opens Friday March 26 at the Regal South Beach.