June 19, 2008

REVIEW: Roman de Gare (B+)

Background: I find it interesting that just a few months after octogenarian Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead was released, we have a new film, Roman de Gare, from septuagenarian Claude Lelouch, perhaps best known for winning the 1966 Best Screenplay for A Man and a Woman. Both Lumet's and Lelouch's newest films are suspenseful and depend on interweaving plots and time fractures, but I haven't seen a critical mass of either's films to know if that is a departure from their style. Lelouch, for his part, admits that he made Roman de Gare "to send a message to those who dismiss my work," even going so far as to direct the film under a pseudonym. Fans of French cinema may recognize Fanny Ardant (Paris je t'aime, 8 Women), and fans of Audrey Tautou will recognize Dominique Pinon from both Amélie and A Very Long Engagement. Rounding out the cast is Audrey Dana, whose performance here earned her a nomination for Most Promising Actress at the 2008 César Awards (the French Oscars).

Synopsis : (Because saying too much here could give away half the movie, I'm not going to go very far.) Best-selling novelist Judith Ralitzer (Ardent) is being questioned by the police following the mysterious death of a man rumored to be her ghostwriter. Meanwhile, news reports tell us a convicted child rapist/pedophile/serial killer known as "The Magician" has escaped from a Paris prison and is currently at large. Huguette (Dana) and her fiance, Paul, are arguing in the car on the way to her family's farm. They stop for gas at a rest stop and, in a fit of rage, Paul takes off and leaves Huguette stranded. Inside the rest stop, a mysterious man (Pinon) is loitering and performing magic tricks for kids traveling with their parents. He eyes Huguette and asks her if he can give her a ride. Desperate to show her parents that she can stay in a relationship, she not only accepts, but asks the man if he will pretend to be her fiance and accompany her on her trip home. This is about 20 minutes in, but it's best to let the rest happen on the screen.

I Loved:
+ The gripping suspense and uncomfortable feelings of anxiety.
+ Dominique Pinon, whose understated acting here was perfect for his mysterious role.

I Liked:
+ Audrey Dana, who never played her character over the top. Very natural - I think she's one to watch.
+ All of the scenes in the car with Pinon and Dana chatting.

I Disliked:
- The ending. Not so much how it happened, but what happened. I think I wanted a different twist.

I Hated:
- Rien.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 4
Significance - 4

Total: 44/50 = 88% = B+

Last Word: It's a shame that when Alfred Hitchcock's name is thrown around these days, it's usually in relation to somebody like M. Night Shyamalan. Plenty of other filmmakers, including Claude Lelouch, are consistently proving to be masters of suspense. In the case of Roman de Gare, Lelouch has created somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The title refers to the type of "airport" or "train station" novel that you happen to pick up at the boarding gate and devour by the time you reach your destination, fully entertained but not quite satisfied. Such was my experience with this film. It didn't lose my attention for a minute, but for all that work I was hoping for a bigger payoff. This is not to say the movie doesn't end well; that's more a matter of taste. Roman de Gare is a great little mystery movie where all the players know their parts, and I recommend it for the patient viewer who's looking for some smart entertainment. In fact, in as much as it's an "airport novel," it might make for a good in-flight movie...


  1. hmm love the iltra breakdown you give things grade wise...

    but could you clear the fog about on your take on grading significance ???

    think i won't have chance to see this film until the 27th...

  2. Welcome, glim! It's a messy little system, but I started it for a reason (I thought there was too much ambiguity/lack of justification in critics' reviews), and I'm trying to stick to it, even if I've found it's not as simple as I thought. I kinda like it though, and typically the math works out to the grade that I would expect to give it right away.

    Significance is short for "social significance", which basically means I judge movies on how important or applicable they are to life/society/humanity. Maybe unfair, but hey, that's why I see movies, and my reviews are personal reviews anyway. Your F could be my A. As much as it pains me to say it, TWBB and No Country both lost some points for significance. It doesn't mean they're not amazing movies, it just means that had I not seen them, I probably wouldn't be missing too many life lessons. (In retrospect I could have given them both higher grades there, but I didn't. What can I say, I was young and foolish way back in 2007.)

    Roman de Gare, then, also would have scored a little bit higher had I thought it was more than just entertainment. It gave me some insights on family and trust and independence and greed, but I didn't fully relate to its characters or find it personally meaningful in a way that affects my daily life. This could be different for every person and every movie, of course.

    Docs will almost always get 5/5 for significance, but there are a number of regular movies that are up there as well, talk about 4 Months, The Band's Visit, Into the Wild, The Visitor, Chop Shop. Hope that makes sense.

  3. Very good review, Daniel.

    Wow, here I was thinking "significance" meant significance in terms of the film in question's overall significance (for instance, No Country for Old Men is a more significant film than The Hudsucker Proxy, or Raiders of the Lost Ark is more significant than Die Hard 2.

    Interesting, Daniel, interesting... :)

  4. You already know my thoughts on the film, so instead I'll comment on your comment, as this bothered me: "Docs will almost always get 5/5 for significance." I know you love docs, but isn't that a tad unfair? Even a really well-made doc doesn't necessarily carry significance with it. For example, I've yet to see King Kong, but in the end, isn't it just about two men and a video game? How significant could that be in the grand scheme? Now, something like Bowling for Columbine or Standard Operating Procedure, I'm all with you, but some subjects just aren't that culturally important, just as many non-docs can be (like the ones you mention).

    Just seems unfair to make that blanket statement based on the genre only.

  5. First of all, thanks to both of you for recommending RdG. It's one I likely would have skipped had I not received good word from trusted sources.

    Now...regarding the significance thing. Alexander, that's an interesting way to do it in its own right, but I would never claim to know enough about film history to compare every movie in that way. Incidentally, I would agree with both of the ones you mention...

    It's fair to call it unfair, Fletch, but that's just the way I roll. Hopefully, a good documentary will be applicable to real life regardless of the subject matter. Since you bring up Kong (and I had a feeling somebody might), I'll be lazy and pull from my review: "And if you think it's just a completely mocking portrayal of video game players or nerds, it's not. At least not entirely. This is in the vein of Spellbound - real experiences of really interesting people that, against all odds, you really find yourself relating to. There are a lot of strange niche cultures out there, but few are shown in a way that people find appealing to watch. If this was just a historical review of the game Donkey Kong, it would lose everything. The human condition is the vital element, and it's gloriously on display in The King of Kong."

    Now maybe some people find it a nice 90 minute comedy show, but I really thought the story of Steve Wiebe was fascinating. This an everyday Joe who's just getting along in life but has an internal need to do something that he meant to do years ago. Who can't relate to that? I really encourage you to see for yourself, and I'd be happy to hear what you think. I also appreciate your honesty in questioning my method. It helps me think about my own position and better understand others.

    Really, all of this goes back to my personal relationship with movies. I'm not one to watch them for empty entertainment. I actually, truly believe that movies of all genres can have some application to life. They be bad movies, good movies, animated, documentaries, whatever. If I'm experience another person's life for a little while, or finding aspects of a story that ring true to me, I call it significance. Some people might find it a stretch, but like I said, we all hopefully experience film in different ways.

  6. Interesting discussion that really points up the subjectivity of ratings, and of reviews in general. Your significance grade cannot help but be subjective; what is significant to you won't be necessarily to me, we have different contexts.

    All of this is ok. I develop a relationship with critics I read, and I would be disappointed if their reviews weren't personal to them.

    Fine review, Daniel.

  7. Thanks, Rick. It's true - my reviews aren't for everyone, and I wouldn't expect everyone's reviews to be for me.

    And yes, there's no escaping subjectivity, even if I originally meant to objectively qualify aspects of each film. It all works out in the end for me. Some movies lend themselves to it well, others not at all, and it's nice to have the freedom to choose. I bet professional critics would love to mix up their reviews with some different formats from time to time.


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