Making a film set almost in its entirely on a train over a single journey, and making it interesting without resorting to an Agatha Christie-like whodunit is not an easy task to undertake, but there is something that is just right about the way Tickets is set on a train, divided into sections and directed by of three directors of worldwide renown, each of them seeming to cover one of the carriages on the train – where characters from the others pass by in the background – giving as appropriately a diverse and cosmopolitan perspective on the nature of people and travelling as the division of classes on a train might suggest.
In the first class section, Ernammo Olmi focuses on a Professor, the head of an important pharmaceutical company, who is making the journey by train from Austria to Rome because of a flight cancellation. Like everyone else on the packed train, he is caught up in his own interior world. Where the others are separated and set apart from each other because of class, language, or the mere fact of being plugged into a Walkman, the Professor (Carlo Delle Paine) is wrapped-up with his work on his laptop. However, as the train sets off on his journey, he abandons his work and reflects on how well the journey has been arranged by his Personal Assistant, Sabine (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). Realising that he has rather taken her kindliness, friendliness, beauty and charm for granted, his mind wanders into a Joycean stream-of-consciousness reflection inspired by the events of the day, his memories of the past, romantic wishful thinking influenced by the sights and sounds of what is going on around him on the train.
In theme, the first section of Tickets is somewhat reminiscent of Kieslowski’s Three Colours Red, where an older man with a closed, cynical view of the world comes to relate with friendship and kindness to other people through a young woman he befriends. Quite what it is that sparks off such fanciful reminiscence in the Professors’ mind and such adoration for his PA here is not quite clear, but it does tend to reduce Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s performance to a permanently smiling idealisation rather than a person. Still, Olmi’s section of the film is nicely put together, seamlessly blending scenes on the train with memories and reflections, effectively capturing the train environment of people keeping to themselves while watching an observing each other with suspicion and prejudice - the train is full of troops, perhaps the sign of heightened security in fear of recent terrorist attacks – maintaining a curious tension throughout the journey.
Kiarostami’s piece, about a couple of second-class travellers trying to position themselves in a couple of seats they have found in the first-class section, is much more naturalistic and observational, seeming to touch on what are everyday situations for people travelling by train. Filippo (Filippo Trojano) is accompanying an older lady (Silvana De Santis) – their relationship isn’t immediately clear - on a trip to Rome, where he is much put-upon by the woman’s rather demanding nature and behaviour which gets them into trouble with other passengers and the ticket inspector. Trying to escape from the woman’s demands for even just a few moments, Filippo strikes up a conversation with a young teenage girl on the train, who recognises him as being from her home town of Bracciano.
The wonder of Kiarostami’s simple filming technique and his ability to draw so much from his characters from placing them in seemingly simple everyday situations is apparent in this section of the film. Unable to simply just leave a camera there to record everything for him in the manner of Ten, he nevertheless carefully chooses the people he wishes to focus upon, often showing monologues only from the perspective of the person who they are being addressed to, and exceptionally, in what is the key scene of this section, from one extraordinary first-person perspective. The train environment allows Kiarostami in this away to address various issues of depersonalisation, where people are relegated to class compartmentalisation, and judgemental assumptions are made about them based on their belongings and the technological objects like phones and personal hi-fis they possess. Filippo, in service to the older lady, has become detached from his family, his sister and his home, his roots and himself – something that is brilliantly incarnated in the innocence of the young girl he speaks to. Only Kiarostami could make such a simple situation so extraordinary and compelling.
Ken Loach, as you might expect, travels with the less affluent members of society in second class. His section of the film follows a group of three Celtic supporters, travelling across Europe to see their team play Roma in the Champions League Final. In an act of kindness similar to the first part of the film, though coming from a less expected source, they share their sandwiches with the Albanian refugees already seen in Olmi’s section of the film. However, when one of the lads, Jamesy (Martin Compston) can’t produce his ticket for the inspector, he suspects that the young Albanian lad has helped himself to more than their sandwiches. Lacking the sufficient funds to pay a fine, the lads find themselves threatened with arrest.
Loach’s drama is an intriguing one – a moral dilemma, where he continually overturns expectations of how we expect people to behave. These Celtic supporters are just ordinary Glaswegian lads who all work in a supermarket together back home. They are certainly not affluent, but they can afford to travel across Europe to see their football team, so when they get speaking to the young Albanian boy, they recognise people who are less well off than themselves. Having overturned the image of what is expected from football fans abroad with their act of kindness towards the refugees, he then places them in a situation, not of their making, where their actions and behaviour are then perceived to be conforming to expectations. The language – scripted by Paul Laverty - is a bit more “earthy” in this section of the film, but the issues Loach addresses are no less complex and humane. Loach shows also – when the boys half-jokingly question what would happen if the Albanians they were helping turned out to actually be Al Quaida terrorists – that we are living in an age where fear of terrorism is likely to make people even more suspicious of each other and prone to pin labels on people they perceive to be a threat. When one’s trust and security about what one perceives is undermined, it becomes harder to find even a relative truth never mind an absolute one.
Tickets is released on DVD in the UK by Artificial Eye. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc in PAL format and the DVD is Region 2 encoded.
The video transfer of Tickets is simply superb. There are neither analogue marks on the print nor any significant digital artefacts or compression issues. The tone of the film is accurate throughout, capturing the dreaminess of Olmi’s section, the ambiguity of Kiarostami’s section and the gritty earthiness of Loach’s section, all the while retaining a consistent, realistic tone – which is no doubt obligatory filming in the confined space of a real train. These conditions might also account for the slight softness in tone in places and the very European yellowish tone that predominates. Other than a faint bit of macro-blocking, there is however nothing of any consequence here to complain about. This is as good a transfer as you could expect for the film.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 only. I’m not sure if a surround track would add greatly to the majority of the film, which takes place in a single train location, although perhaps Olmi’s section – the only one that leaves the confines of the train for any length of time – would have benefited from a wider sound design, which is just as carefully composed as the blending of images. For the main part, the Dolby Digital 2.0 is fine for this, and technically without any flaws whatsoever.
English subtitles are provided in a clear, white font and are optional. There is an option to watch the film subtitled for only the foreign language segments of the film, and an option for the film to be fully subtitled, including the Ken Loach section. Considering the use of strong Glaswegian accents in this part of the film, this is quite useful.
Surprisingly, there is an extensive making of included in the extra features. Perhaps however, considering the quality of the directors and the uniqueness of the enterprise, this is not so surprising. It’s certainly more than welcome. Titled Tickets x 3 (55:11), it shows all the directors fully collaborating on the film, from the concept, theme and interlinking sections, through to actual filming and editing together. There is no real context setting for where, when and how the film was shot, but this is fascinating nonetheless for seeing the sheer joy with which the directors shared their experience. The Theatrical Trailer (1:55) is presented in pan & scan 1.33:1, and might give away a bit more than you would want to know about the film beforehand. The Production Notes very helpfully provide the information that is missing from the Making Of – the idea of the film and choice of the directors coming from Kiarostami, Olmi coming up with the idea for it to be a single feature set on a train, rather than the traditional episodic format of a portmanteau film. Brief Biographies with filmographies are also included.
I can’t pretend that Tickets is riveting or revolutionary stuff, or even that the film uses the underlying premise of a train journey as a microcosm to illuminate the relationships that exist between people of different classes, ages and temperaments. Rather, it is characterised by the small moments of everyday life, of personal revelations and all the little commonplace contacts that we make with people on a daily basis, while at the same time maintaining an awareness of the deeper psychological issues at stake. If you have ever taken a train journey, particularly across Europe, you don’t need to be a people-watcher or be stuck next to larger-than-life characters recognise just how uncontrived, universal and realistic the commonplace situations here are. What makes them extraordinary and compelling in Tickets is the treatment each of the stories have from three different directors acting in perfect collaboration (and how often do you see that done at all, never mind so successfully?), matching the stop and start rhythms of a train journey, and the embarking and disembarking of people that are part of your life one moment and gone the next. This ticket for this journey is a bargain, and you get three tickets for the price of one. With this transfer to DVD and a fine selection of extra features, Artificial Eye additionally give you a free upgrade to first-class.