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'Man on the Train'

'Man on the Train' takes two on unplanned trip

Friday, June 06, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The retired poetry teacher knows there are two types of men in the world: adventurers and planners. The first is always losing his toothbrush somewhere, while the second religiously keeps a spare on hand. His bathroom is stocked in triplicate.

 
 
'MAN ON THE TRAIN'

RATING: R for language, some brief violence

STARRING: Jean Rochefort, Johnny Hallyday

DIRECTOR: Patrice Leconte

   
 

In fact, Monsieur Manesquier jokes that except for needlepoint, he has the skills of a well-groomed early-20th-century young woman. But he's a modern-day man who dreams of bank robberies and Bahamian escapes as he sits at his dusty dining room table meticulously assembling a puzzle.

So, when he encounters a newcomer in the pharmacy of his small French town, he happily escorts him to his nearby home so he can get some water for his aspirin. When the stranger named Milan finds the only hotel in town locked, he returns to Manesquier's house and is happily welcomed back.

Director Patrice Leconte's "Man on the Train" explores how these opposites -- one talkative, one taciturn, one imprisoned by safety and routine, the other unfettered and accustomed to risk -- become unlikely friends. They get a glimpse of what it means to walk in the other's shoes or, in one case, slippers.

Milan discovers the joy of sitting with a book on his lap and a pipe in his hand. Manesquier indulges his cowboy fantasies by aiming a gun at tin cans and squeezing the trigger. But are these two merely trying on the other's lifestyle or will they really cross some sort of line and undergo a sea change?

"Man on the Train," in French with English subtitles," pairs veteran actor Jean Rochefort, a delight to watch, with the often stone-faced Johnny Hallyday, known as the "French Elvis." Rochefort has a light comic touch and puckish delivery, while Hallyday is as hard-edged as a diamond. He's almost unreachable and would be unbearable to watch, were it not for the leavening effect of Rochefort.

Leconte, whose work includes "Girl on the Bridge," "The Widow of St. Pierre" and "The Hairdresser's Husband," asked his cinematographer to use a type of film stock that would resemble a 19th-century daguerreotype. The result is mixed, making the image seem washed out at times.

The screenplay by Claude Klotz builds to D-Day for both men, and although you might think you know where it's headed, it takes a detour or two. One of the strands is so kinked as to be unbelievable; the other never fully explained. Still, the sweet and bitter combination of the leading men is as unlikely as it is refreshing.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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