Claude Lelouch created a blockbuster heavy-date film 42 years ago with A Man and a Woman. He crafts a light, enigmatically seductive mystery with Roman de Gare.
By far the most purely entertaining of all his films to reach these shores, Roman de Gare is the rare trick film in which all the tricks reveal something amusing, involving or poignant about its characters.
Fanny Ardant, managing to combine the assurance of a fashionable lady with the allure of a femme fatale, plays a popular novelist whose sudden leap in artistry may be due to the efforts of a ghost writer. Slight, bullet-eyed scene-stealer Dominique Pinon, who knows how to make intense alertness scary-funny, plays the man who may be her ghost writer; but he may merely be her secretary, or a runaway teacher and family man, or even a serial killer. Audrey Dana plays a hairdresser abandoned by her doctor-fiance while en route to her provincial family.
Their orbits break apart, reform and intersect unpredictably. Only when Lelouch completes his pattern do they reveal their true identities, discarding lies, illusions and evasions.
The movie's title comes from the French term for a novel bought at train stations, usually a romance or a thriller. Lelouch's Roman de Gare is a love story and a suspense film simultaneously; also a comedy and a road film. The suspense, the romance and the comedy all come from the characters' recognition of what and whom they love.
We learn of a serial killer who performs magic acts for his victims before he rapes and kills them. Lelouch employs the showbiz magic of misdirection and prestidigitation throughout this bouncy, handsome movie.
He makes you wonder how he'll connect a Parisian lit-chat show, primitive farm and posh cruise - and he does - without betraying a bead of sweat. As characters appear and reappear, we see them as if in carnival-sideshow mirrors, but the director never lets us get lost in his funhouse.
He's made a multiple-genre movie whose engines are its characters, and none of the actors lets him down. Ardant has her grand-dame act down cold - more precisely, hot and cold.
Dana should become a major movie star because she has the rare ability to speak coarsely and emote with sensitivity all at once. And Pinon conveys the charm and attractiveness of attentive yet playful creativity - which is the key to Lelouch's triumph in Roman de Gare.
Watch a preview of Roman de Gare at baltimoresun
ROMAN DE GARE (IDP/Samuel Goldwyn) Starring Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana. Directed by Claude Lelouch. Rated R for brief language and sexual references. Time 103 minutes.