“Why’s sweetness so dangerous?”
The films of French director Patrice Leconte focus on unusual, non-definable relationships. In the film Man on the Train, the unusual relationship is between retired poetry teacher, Manesquier (Jean Rochefort) and aging criminal Milan (Johnny Hallyday). The lives of these two men intersect, quite by accident, in a chemist shop. Milan wants aspirin, and Manesquier offers to give him a drink of water at his beautiful country home.
The two vastly different men realise that they actually have a fair amount in common, and over the course of a few days, they exchange certain guarded confidences. It is particularly difficult for Milan to relax and accept Manesquier as a fellow member of the human race, but gradually, a wary trust begins to build. For a brief time, they allow themselves a glimpse of each other’s lives–and both men play with the idea of what their lives could have been if their choices were different.
The entire film rests on the idea that the relationship between these two different men is believable. To be honest, for the first part of the film, I was not convinced, but as the film reveals more about the characters–Manesquier in particular–then my disbelief vanished. I understood why Manesquier took the chance of allowing a rather shady character into his home. I particularly loved the ending of the film–and I was left with the sort of feeling I always have after watching a Patrice Leconte film–a feeling that I’ve been allowed to see something quite rare and fleeting. Jean Rochefort is a veteran of French cinema, and his performance is, as always, superb. Hallyday, a French musician, was great as the rough around-the-edges bank robber–a man whose life might have been very different if only he’d been dealt a different hand. If you enjoyed this film, I heartily recommend tracking down copies of Leconte’s other films. They are all masterpieces of French cinema.