The Girl on the Train

Movie review: 'The Girl on the Train' goes off the rails

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010

There's a mystery surrounding the episode at the center of "The Girl on the Train," a French drama inspired by a controversial 2004 incident in which a young gentile woman lied about being the victim of a violent, anti-Semitic subway attack. Why did she do it?

Don't look to the film -- or even to the main character -- for answers. "I don't know," says Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), who scratched herself superficially and inked swastikas on her belly with a marker, blaming unnamed teenage hooligans. "I wanted to be loved, and the opposite happens."

That's pretty much it. Viewers are left to speculate about the deeper motivation behind Jeanne's false report, which led to a media and public outcry.

Did Jeanne feel betrayed by her boyfriend, Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who had just lied to her about working for a cocaine dealer? Franck's now in the hospital and under arrest, the victim of a drug-related stabbing. Possibly she wants to hurt him as revenge.

Or was she trying to punish her mother, Louise (Catherine Deneuve), for Louise's mild disapproval of Franck? According to Jeanne, her assailants mistook her for a Jew only after finding a business card in her backpack with the name of a Jewish lawyer, Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc). At Louise's urging, Jeanne briefly worked as a secretary for Bleistein, who also happens to be an old suitor of her mother's.

Maybe all of the above. Maybe none. The film, by director André Téchiné ("Strayed"), just doesn't seem to care.

Instead, it's mildly more interested in the repercussions of Jeanne's actions on Bleistein and his family, whom Louise recruits to run a sort of intervention with Jeanne at their country home, in hopes of coaxing a confession out of her. From the very start, no one believes Jeanne -- except the public.

It's a well-acted, but frustratingly inconclusive exercise. While there are overtones of the 1987 Tawana Brawley incident in the United States, the film offers no real insight into anything, least of all why contemporary society is so ready to believe the worst about itself.

* 1/2 Unrated. At the Avalon. Contains obscenity, a sex scene, violence, drugs and smoking. In French with English subtitles. 105 minutes.

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