L'Homme du Train Review

A sullen, laconic stranger, Milan (Johnny Hallyday) arrives in a small town where he plans to carry off a bank robbery, probably his last one, as he longs for a quieter and more settled life. He meets Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), who seems to have everything that he is missing in his life – comfort, security and peace with oneself. Manesquier, a retired school teacher, would be happy to trade places with him, as he feels his life has lacked adventure and incident. As the town’s hotel is closed, Milan stays a few days with Mansquier and both men learn a little from each other as they both approach an important day in their life.

If the above description reminds you a little of a fairly typical and clichéd Western plot, that is intentional. The film makes several little playful references, Manesquier pulling on Milan’s leather jacket and brandishing imaginary pistols, later taking on a couple of unruly youths in a café when everyone else is afraid to challenge them. Milan is the embodiment of the loner with the dangerous past, who has got a little bit tired of the gunplay and wants to retire - after one last job. The soundtrack, a lone slide-guitar and the rumble of a train rolling over tracks, also underpins the impression of the Western. This works quite well, never quite slipping into parody, it lies just below the surface and is a useful template to carry the story along. The film is well-constructed, carefully colour-coded and the characters are well-delineated, well-cast (although to be fair the roles were written specifically for them) and well-played, each of the two leads possessing two well-worn, lived-in faces that appear to be etched with the pleasures and disappointments of their respective pasts.

The script by Claude Klotz, while an improvement on his previous script for Leconte, Félix et Lola, doesn’t live up to the delights of their collaboration on The Hairdresser’s Husband, which is referenced in the film in a funny sequence in a barbers. Overall the impression is that it is perhaps all a little bit too neat, too cleverly contrived, a little bit dull and the outcome not unexpected. Leconte does manage however to include a characteristic twist to the ending, rounding the film off with customary style and pathos.

This is a review of the French Region 2 release. It contains a number of extra features not available on the UK edition and an additional DTS soundtrack. The French release contains English subtitles on the film, but no subtitles for the extra features.

The picture is quite dark, but the film makes heavy use of filters and stylistic colouring and the DVD seems to be pretty faithful to how the film appeared theatrically. Theatrical reviews also commented on the grain which can be seen often in the image, so this is not particularly a problem, although it does cause some minor encoding artefacts in dark backgrounds. Overall the image is clear, sharp with strong detail, quite up to the standard we expect from a French DVD.

The film features a good DTS soundtrack which has slightly more depth than the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Either mix will be more than adequate for the film. The UK release looks like it will lose the DTS track.

English subtitles are provided for the film and the subtitling is good for the most part, although as usual translators unnecessarily translate minor insults ('con') as strong swear words, which is inappropriate for what is effectively a 'U' certificate film (Tous Publics). A few stray lines appear at one point in the film where there isn’t actually any dialogue, although curiously, the lines are in keeping with the scene.

The commentary is in French only with no subtitles. Leconte is a good commentator, he always has something interesting to say, even when you think there is not much to say about a scene. He talks about how the film was made more or less in chronological order. It wouldn’t have worked any other way, he feels, as it allowed the actors to get to know each other at the same time as the characters. It also affords the film a certain fluidity. He comments on the colour schemes used – cold, steely blue for Hallyday’s scenes, warm ochre tones for Rochefort. He discusses a theme common to many of his films (Monsieur Hire, Rue des Plaisirs (Love Street), The Hairdresser’s Husband, The Girl On The Bridge, Félix et Lola) – the meeting of two social misfits who would never normally meet in real life. That is what the film is about and provides the momentum to drive the narrative.

Making of (51.06)
Quelques jours avec eux is a rather long making of film by Arnaud Deschamps, presented at 1.85:1 anamorphic with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There are no subtitles provided for this. It follows the shooting of the film through a number of scenes, with a few outtakes and mistakes and people mugging for the camera in between takes. Hallyday, a famous singer in France, can be seen drawing a lot of attention from on-lookers during the on-location shooting. There are no interviews or narration and only on-set dialogue can be heard, so it is quite possible to watch this without any knowledge of French. Whether you would want to is another matter as it is repetitive, overlong and not really substantial.

Interviews (22.08)
Click to enlargeThe interviews with Leconte, Rochefort, Hallyday, and Klotz are usefully edited together to avoid repetition. The idea of making the film came from Hallyday, who wanted to work with Leconte. The director came up with a basic idea of pairing him with an opposite actor, Rochefort and he asked Klotz to come up with a script. Klotz enjoyed writing with two specific actors in mind. There is discussion also of the characters and the plot and the atmosphere working on the set. A good feature, much more interesting than the making of. A separate interview is conducted with composer Pascal Estève (5.09), who talks about building the music for the film around the characters. Interviews are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic, DD 2.0, in French with no subtitles.

Trailers (1.10)
The trailer is 1.85:1 anamorphic with a 5.1 soundtrack. There are no subtitles.

Filmographies are provided for Patrice Leconte, Jean Rochefort, Johnny Hallyday, Claude Klotz (script) and Pascal Estève (music).

Photo Gallery
A nice photo gallery of behind the scenes and on-set photographs by Catherine Cabrol. Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1.

Not Patrice Leconte’s best film, L'Homme du Train is nevertheless worth seeing for the customary style and aplomb that the director usually delivers, as well as some sympathetic performances from the leads. The DVD is of the quality we expect from a French release and contains a fine selection of extras that Pathé have inexplicably dropped from the forthcoming UK release. Why put up with sub-standard UK releases?

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