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Who Love Me Can Take the Train (1998)
Are there any really good films with scripts written by three
writers? Film is by nature a collaborative art, with writer, director, actors,
cinematographer, editor, and all the other members of the team bringing their specialized
skills to the table. But screenwriting by committee? It has the ring of a warning bell
and, unfortunately, the bell tolls for Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train. A
major hit in France, Patrice Chereau's new film seems unlikely to do as well on this side
of the Atlantic: American audiences for foreign language films are not likely to be much
interested in soap operas.
Those Who Love Me
starts with a somewhat schematic premise. Jean-Baptiste, a powerful artist/teacher, has
died and will be interred in the city of Limoges, his family's home. His Parisian friends
and lovers of both genders embark by train for the funeral in Limoges, as the deceased is
transported in a station wagon, often visible from the window of the train. Even as the
varied relationships with Jean-Baptiste are disclosed, conflicts, jealousies, loves, and
resentments flair anew in complicated patterns. It takes a concentration of will to keep
them all sorted out, and it is questionable in the end whether the complexity of structure
supports any particular complexity of thought or insight.
Not only complexity
of structure stands in the way of cogent story telling. A number of the characters and
relationships, particularly within Jean-Baptiste's blood family, are only superficially
explored. A lot of possibilities are thrown into the mix (Jean-Baptiste was a twin, for
example), but it is no more than a tease when they remain no more than undeveloped
suggestions, hints that lead nowhere. .
The relationships at
the center are those of a married couple in the process of breaking up and a male
homosexual couple complicating their lives as each has an affair with the same, much
younger, HIV positive man. All the relationships and all the characters are in the
vulnerable emotional place of focused change that the death of someone close precipitates.
though, is not a sympathetic group of people learning from their life experience, but an
almost uniformly self-centered collection of individuals, each focused on his or her own
selfish needs and wants. (One woman cries out, "I was his impossible dream! I was
Woman!") The gathering together and the mourning are more an excuse to hysterically
act out old resentments than an occasion to work though to new understanding and - dare
one hope? - forgiveness.
First rate acting by
the ensemble cast spreads a thin veneer of credibility over the proceedings, but the
coating of performance cracks for lack of the support of any real heart underneath. And
none of the multi-participant ranting is assisted either by a hyper-active hand held
camera jumpy enough to make an aerialist dizzy or a lighting scheme so dark that most of
the time faces are shrouded in shadow.
Committees may be
necessary to run a democracy but they do not seem an ideal structure for writing a good
- Arthur Lazere