The Man on the Train is about two people who wish they could exchange lives
Poetry or a thriller? The last 10 minutes of the French film Man on the Train is a heady mix of both. All you need to do is ponder a while, and the real picture emerges. Filmmaker Patrice Leconte (his film Ridicule opened the 1996 Cannes festival, and went on to win four César Awards) prefers to give the audience that extra space to interpret, and may be that’s one of the reasons this film is so poetic.
Screened by Konangal Film Society, the film’s storyline is simple, and runs for 90 minutes.
Two strangers — retired English literature teacher Manesquier in his 70s (played by Jean Rochefort) and bank robber Milan (played by Johnny Halliday, the legendary rock-n-roller, sometimes called ‘French Elvis’) meet. By chance, Milan gets to stay at the teacher’s house.
He is in town for a robbery, and the old man is to undergo a triple bypass surgery. They become good friends, discuss paintings, poetry and music, and each begins to wish he could have lived the other’s life. The old man envies Milan’s life on the move while Milan craves stability.
The scene in which Mansequier asks Milan to show him how to fire a gun, and Milan, in turn, asks him to teach him a poem, is delightful.
Believable characters, minimal dialogues, and the autumnal beauty of the French provincial town are the other highlights.
“What poetry!” exclaims film buff D. Anandan. “Suspense and poetry run parallel in the last 10 minutes.” The professor is taken inside the operation theatre, and Milan gets ready to rob.
The director merges the scenes (the medical instrument and the guns; the white mask and the black mask), and runs them as parallel shots until the robber is shot by the police, and the old man’s heart stops. But, the movie doesn’t end there.
There is absolute silence in the sequence that follows. The old man imagines himself coming out of prison as Milan, and taking the train to explore the Wild West. Milan appears as the professor, and plays the piano at his house.
The background score perfectly complements the scenes. “It is something like ‘mental projection’. So they don’t speak,” Anandan explains. Sreenivasan, a lecturer in English, says one should just let the feeling sink in. “The charm goes when you dissect it.”
The film is seen by some as a reflection of the evolution of France, its culture and technology.
“When life becomes predictable, boredom creeps in. It also gives the message that the wisdom of age helps one live those unfulfilled dreams.
The beauty of friendship is also highlighted.”
The characters are easy to identify with, says Pon Chandran.
“For instance, at one point when Manesquier sneaks into Milan’s room, and tries on his leather jacket, our alter ego comes into play. And, it also asks the question — why do we always suppress our feelings?”