(2007) dir. Claude Lelouch
viewed: 08/15/08 at Opera Plaza Cinemas, SF, CA
Roman de gare, a French thriller/mystery that has lingered in San Francisco cinemas for a few months, turns out to be not nearly as compelling as I had hoped. There seemed to be a small handful of French thrillers. I guess that I’d assumed that this one was the best of the bunch. I actually think I liked Tell No One (2006) better.
According to Wikipedia, the title translates: “The title is French slang for “trashy novel one reads in a train or train station” similar to the English phrase “beach book,”” which kind of makes sense. The film is about an author of such works, a trashy thriller novelist whose story for her latest novel is not only lifted from real life, but conflated with it throughout much of the film.
Really, the film is at its best when the audience is unsure of who the characters are, being led down one alley of belief and then another about the characters. Are they killers, writers, ghost-writers, prostitutes, hairdressers, lovers, runaway husbands? Quite a while, this illusion carries on, with the “story within a story” conflating as well: Are we seeing the story of the book or the story the book was lifted from?
This conflation is highly self-reflexive and really embodies the mystery of the film. And as the narrative unwinds, knowledge and concern mix with the surprises of the characters and their hidden “lives,” their pretenses initially displayed, to which the audience follows as well. We only know what we are shown, right?
This would all be well and good if at the end (and I don’t think I am ruining the surprises here), like so many a mystery story, someone pops up to explain each circumstance, which was the “real” story, the actual, uncovering the lies and exposing the imposters. It’s a weakness of the genre, and in this case, really seemed to deflate the film’s clever conflations. See, in the end there was only one story, the real story, and now we know.
I guess that the ending has one open-ended question of motive, but the finale, the final scene, seems to indicate that there indeed is only one story, not another lie, not another trick, but a closure that sucks out the confusion and cleverness of the story before.