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.
+ The gripping suspense and uncomfortable feelings of anxiety.
+ Dominique Pinon, whose understated acting here was perfect for his mysterious role.
+ 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.
- The ending. Not so much how it happened, but what happened. I think I wanted a different twist.
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...