Roman de Gare

July, 2006, Drama

Directed by:Claude Lelouch

Starring:Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana, Zinedine Soualem, and Myriam Boyer

42 years ago, a brash young French director named Claude Lelouch, not then 30 years old, combined a sophisticated Gallic cast with a lush musical score to conjure up an old-fashioned romance masquerading as part of the French New Wave. The result, A Man and A Woman, won a slew of international awards including an Oscar as the best foreign language film of the year. He’s churned out roughly a film per year since - - strictly commercial fare which has earned him a reputation in France as a Hollywood-style director, with modest talents and a deep respect for the commercial appeal of his output. But since his countrymen consider film an art-form and not a business, his reputation has suffered - - so much so that he initially released his latest film under a pseudonym to tweak the noses of his highbrow critics. The last laugh is his; Roman is a romantic thriller with clever twists, appealing performances, bursts of inspired humor and sufficient displays of ennui to satisfy that country’s appetite for both enlightenment and entertainment.

The plot’s got more twists than a pig’s tale; it involves a highly successful author, (the stunning Fanny Ardant) who may or may not also be a murderess, her 40-something male secretary, (who has the body of a bank clerk and the face of Wallace Berry on acid) a serial killer who performs magic tricks for his victims and a part-time prostitute named Huguette who loses her fiancé on the way home to the small village where her parents manage a small farm and take care of Huguette’s illegitimate but charming teenage daughter. Pigs, adultery, the theft of intellectual property and a gorgeous yacht which may also double as a crime scene allow the writer/director to keep multiple storylines percolating, the better to tease the audience; is this a serious exercise in multi-layered storytelling or is Lelouch having his way with us? In the end, death and romance co-exist in such a way that cinephiles and general audiences will find equally satisfying.

As the mysterious woman of letters, Ardant binds elegance to mendacity with such chilling allure that her character seems capable of any thing. Just a few months shy of her 60th birthday, the actress’ jaw-dropping beauty rivals that of many younger film stars and she continues to find new roles in which to display her talents. Why is it possible to find any number of European films in which an accomplished woman’s age is no barrier? Are American audiences averse to stories which require beauty and talent in combination? Are this country’s males so juvenile they’re incapable of appreciating leading ladies over the age of 35?

However, as wonderful as Ardant’s performance is, Roman’s success can be largely attributed to Dominique Pinon, who plays her quietly suppressed literary servant. Short, diminutive and possessed of a face that appears to have been caved in by a well-placed shot from a 2 X 4, Pinion morphs from terrorizing menace to bedroom lothario to avenging angel to completely credible romantic lead in the space of Roman’s 103-minute running time. With over a hundred performances to his credit in a career that spans a little more than 25 years, Pinon is the character actors’ character actor - - the guy you’ve seen a dozen times but whose name you can’t ever remember. I suspect he relishes this role, for it’s unlikely he’ll ever get another in which he terrifies, seduces, manipulates and charms with the capacity displayed here.

Roman de Gare isn’t a great film, but it’s certainly a thoroughly diverting one and if Lelouch has thumbed his nose as those who demand that he produce films with greater depth of meaning, he might well submit this clever bit of slight-of-hand to demonstrate that he possesses the spirit, (if not the full talent) of Alfred Hitchcock at his most macabre.

The verdict? Light as a fresh croissant and just about as significant- - but it goes down very well indeed.  


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