L'Homme du Train (2002)
Directed by Patrice Leconte

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), a retired teacher, encounters a stranger, Milan (Johnny Hallyday), who has just arrived in town. The former promptly invites the latter to his house, where the two talk and soon become friends. Unfortunately, Manesquier is scheduled for a heart operation on the following Saturday and Milan plans to rob a local bank at the same time.

Patrice Leconte's L'Homme du Train, while not nearly as touching as are some of the director's other efforts, such as Girl on the Bridge and The Hairdresser' s Husband, is, nonetheless, a charming and enjoyable film.

Leconte spends most of the movie revealing how each of his protagonists reveals himself. From the director's presentations of their initial conversations, in which Manesquier tells the largely silent and sullen Milan about his life, to their later talks, in which the latter begins to speak as well, Leconte permits the two men to fascinate the viewer with their histories and emotions so that he quickly becomes involved with them.

The heart of each man is made even more apparent by the director's showing how each is affected by his interactions with the other, even when they are apart. In one scene, for instance, he depicts Manesquier trying on Milan's leather jacket and pretending to be Wyatt Earp, and, in another, he shows how Milan attempts to teach one of his host's students. The viewer thus sees how Manesquier, moved by Milan, exposes both his dissatisfaction with his quiet, lonely existence and his longing for excitement, and Milan, touched by Manesquier, regrets the unstable, criminal life he has led and dreams of the ordinary pleasures he has missed. By so making clear the yearnings and the sorrows of these two, how each is saddened by elements of his own life and is attracted to that led by the other, even though neither of the men is suited to his newfound friend's existence, the director has created a consistently moving tale.

Moreover, both the leads acquit themselves well. Jean Rochefort is, as always, endearing and pleasant to watch. He also effectively gives expression to his character's melancholy love of life, his simple eccentricities, and his involvement with the town in which he has lived his whole life. While Johnny Hallyday never has Rochefort's on screen presence, he, nevertheless, suffuses his character with enough of a sense of taciturn, sad dangerousness that he too is able to engage the viewer. Each of the actors, in fact, greatly contributes to the film's emotivity.

In spite of all its virtues, the movie is hardly flawless. The ending of L'Homme du Train is, frankly, meandering and overlong. Sadly, not only does the director take entirely too much time relating the conclusion of his narrative, but much of that ending also seems forced. A large part of the emotive reaction he had earlier stirred up in the moviegoer is, consequently, dissipated in its last moments.

What is more, although Leconte does successfully evoke the beauty of Manesquier's huge but slightly dilapidated house, of that man's quiet hometown, and of various everyday objects, his film is generally visually pedestrian. The appealing elements the director has included do give his movie some charm, but they are never so stunning that they make the film truly impressive to look at.

L'Homme du Train is hardly a masterpiece, but it is a touching, enjoyable work that is sure to please any sensitive viewer.

Review by Keith Allen

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