Quarantine Film Diary – Day 11 – The Man on the Train

Stuck in the Czech Republic as a result of a travel ban announced after the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, I watch one random film a day until the travel ban is lifted to keep some of my sanity intact.

Milan (Johnny Hallyday) and Manesquier (Jean Rochefort) are two middle-aged men who meet by chance in a small French town. They become friends despite their polar opposite personalities. The former ends up staying at the latter’s home and we soon discover that Milan is planning a major bank robbery, while Manesquier is about to undergo major surgery – and that both events are scheduled to occur on the same day.

An opening shot of Hallyday hopping off his train and entering the small town evokes the iconic sequences of traditional westerns. Muscular slide guitars are heard throughout the film. Yet, there is no machismo to be found in this soft-spoken chamber piece and reflection on masculinity, focused to the point where female “intrusion” is kept to a minimum.

The tone of this film is reflective, calm and even quite charming. The Man on the Train is also structured around small gestures rather than grandiose events. This is a quietly ambitious endeavor, which Peter Leconte makes seems easy and carries out successfully and gracefully. Hallyday and Rochefort contribute greatly to this success by delivering carefully dosed performances.

Over the course of Milan’s stay at Manesquier’s house, their bond grows naturally. Their friendship, we understand, is built on a silent shared agreement to grant each other a glimpse or taste of a life they never lived but secretly often dreamt of living. For example, Manesquier lets Milan walk around in his slippers, while Milan lets Manesquier shoot his gun.

The two lead characters of Leconte’s film represent two polar opposite representations of masculinity, so simple that they could be defined as stereotypes – complete with apt costumes and maquillage. Milan is the world-weary, tough adventurer who is no stranger to danger. Manesquier is the introverted intellectual who recites poetry by memory. Yet, each representation is presented via disarming frankness, rid of the romanticism with which it is often offered across all arts, and sets The Man on the Train aside from other similar films.

L’HOMME DU TRAIN | Director – Patrice Leconte | Writer – Philippe Carcassonne | Starring – Jean Rochefort, Johnny Hallyday | France | 2002

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