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The writer’s world creates a web of intrigue

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Samuel Goldwyn FilmsDominique Pinon and Fanny Ardant star in the French thriller "Roman de Gare," showing Sunday and Monday, July 6-7, at Paepcke Auditorium in the SummerFilms series.
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Any time we put ourselves in the hands of a writer, it is an act of faith on a variety of levels. Do the writer’s words accurately reflect events that happened? Does the writer believe in his own words? Is the name attached to the writing even the person who actually did the writing?

Writers are capable of all manners of trickery, from half-truths to outright deceit. And included in this bag of tricks is storytelling, where blind corners in the plot and unexpected emotional connections are a pre-agreed part of the deal. In the best stories, our faith is justified: Those improbable twists and bonds deliver, and the manipulation of characters and action becomes something close to magic.

The French film “Roman de Gare,” by director/screenwriter Claude Lelouch, offers a nifty, multilevel take on the deceptions writers engage in. And more, the film hints at the very nature of writing as an art where the listener is constantly at risk of having the rug pulled out from under his feet.

The first level presented by “Roman de Gare” is the structure of a story. The film opens with a confusing sequence of scenes: a novelist being interviewed on a TV show; a serial rapist has escaped from prison; a stressed-out woman is in a car with her boyfriend, heading to her parents’ farm. How are the strands related? Are they related? Lelouch doesn’t even tip his hand to suggest which of these strands we should follow. The viewer is on shaky ground, indeed.

And then Lelouch’s sense of the conventional takes over. The stressed woman, Huguette (Audrey Dana), is abandoned at a highway stop by her boyfriend. Eventually, she decides to take a ride with an odd-looking man, Pierre (Dominique Pinon), whose activities at the gas station ” performing magic tricks for little girls ” are highly suspicious. Driving to the mountains, the two fall into an easy camaraderie, and Huguette decides she will pass off the stranger as her boyfriend, so as not to disappoint her parents.

Here, “Roman de Gare” itself falls into an easy, and highly satisfying, story of offbeat quasi-romance. (It is worth noting here that the film is a comedy, a thriller, a crime drama, a romance and a metaphysical meditation.) The combination of tension and warmth between Huguette and her family ” including her mostly estranged daughter, Sabrina ” is vivid and believable. And the progress of the relationship between Huguette and Pierre becomes not only the center of attention, but a promising love story.

But wait, wait, wait. Pierre ” who is he? Is he not the escaped rapist? What of those strands of story that were floated at the film’s beginning, which still hover over the story?

Who is this woman whose husband has left her, and who is this police officer investigating the case? And who is this writer, Judy Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant), on the TV show?

The film leaves the stability of the old country farm, where nothing seems to have changed in a century or two, to look at these other characters. And like that, we have slipped back into the maze, only amplified by several orders of magnitude.

There is a murder ” or was it an accident? Or an intentional disappearance? Who is Pierre ” The rapist? The man who left his wife and has gone missing? Or is he the man behind the curtain, pulling all the strings?

I will reveal only two things:

One, Pierre is (probably), as he said at the beginning, a ghost writer ” the faceless presence who gives us not his name, but the story.

Two, for all its impressive sleight of hand, “Roman de Gare” manages to pull off a couple of neat tricks. All the strings get tied together in the end. And all the metaphysical musings would amount to very little without the convincing emotion pulled off by lead actors Pinon and Dana.

“Roman de Gare” shows Sunday and Monday, July 6-7, at Paepcke Auditorium in the SummerFilms series.

stewart@aspentimes.com


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