André Téchiné’s latest film takes its inspiration from a real life incident where a woman lodged a false report stating that she had been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack – despite not being Jewish and having faked the entire episode. The story rapidly escalated out of control and became a national scandal with high profile politicians weighing in for a bout of political point scoring.
When it was revealed the woman had lied, the ensuing furore spoke volumes about political sycophancy (Ariel Sharon famously called on French Jews to leave the country) and the sorry state of race relations that continues to simmer under the surface of the collective French consciousness.
The issue of anti-Semitism had been occupying column inches of the French press since the advent of the millennium when a survey announced a 50% rise in such attacks leading many in the Jewish community to feel threatened and isolated in a country still somewhat dogged by its participation – whether passive or not – in the Shoah.
Split into two chapters – ‘Circumstances’ & ‘Consequences’ – the film interrogates the motive behind the woman’s erroneous tale and the resulting impact that threatens to expose her as a fraud and enrage French society.
The ‘Circumstances’: Jeanne lives in a lower-middle class banlieue with her child-minder mother on the outskirts of Paris, preferring to spend most of her day rollerblading with similarly disaffected youths. Failing to secure a secretarial position in a law firm with an old Jewish family friend she finds solace in Franck, an aspiring professional wrestler, who she promptly moves in with.
This theme of rejection is exacerbated when Francke is knifed during a drug-deal that goes array and Jeanne finds herself inexplicably held to blame by the man she loves. At home she faces further dismissal at the hands of her mother who shows more interest in the children she takes care of rather than fret over her daughter’s alleged assault. Coincidentally, Jeanne catches a documentary on concentration camps where she appears to align herself with the category of ‘victim’ and spots an opportunity to win back affection from both her emotionally distant mother and her curt lover.
Tension is expertly racked up as Jeanne’s lie begins to unfold and mounting pressure gradually nudges her towards an awkward confession. This sets up the ‘Consequences’ that occupies the brief remainder of the film.
The Girl On The Train loses sight of itself somewhat with a subplot involving the lawyer’s son who is undergoing a painful separation from his wife. Its inclusion is intended to elaborate on the film’s themes but is – in actuality – rather superfluous and risks exhausting the audiences’ interest.
Using this incendiary issue as a backdrop André Téchiné succeeds in constructing an intriguing story that deals with class divides, race relations, an aimless discarded younger generation and excessive media intrusion. Whilst character motivation is often unconvincing – not to mention Catherine Deneuve’s valiant attempt at feigning dowdy – the plot is thought-provoking enough to paper over the cracks. It’s a shame that the ‘Consequences’ don’t quite live up to the ‘Circumstances’ but it’s an undeniably intriguing film that dares to deal with a controversial topic in an original and well-crafted manner.