Roman De Gare

Starring: Starring: Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, and Audrey Dana. Directed by Claude Lelouch
103 mins

Rating: Rated M (mature themes, coarse language and sexual references)

The title of this movie is meant to signify the kind of paperbacks sold at airports that offer airline passengers a good, but trashy read. Lelouch, who gave us “A Man and Woman” chooses his title provocatively in this French sub-titled production. This is a stylish thriller, intricate in its design where the characters in it are never quite what they seem and it handles the thriller genre with more than a gentle nod to comedy.

The film quickly shows a celebrated novelist Judith Ralitzer (played by Fanny Ardant) being questioned by the police about an alleged victim and he just might be her ghost-writer Pierre (played by Dominique Pinon) who was responsible for her most recent book (“God, The Other”), which is popular and selling well. There is a serial killer on the loose and he is labelled by the police “the magician” - known for his performing tricks to attract the attention of his potential victims. Soon, the film cuts to a highway scene at a roadside rest stop where Pierre starts up a conversation with a beautiful hairdresser Huguette (played by Audrey Dana). Huguette has been abandoned by her fiancée and Pierre pressures her to accept a lift. After Pierre captures her interest by performing a magician’s trick, Huguette asks him to pretend to be her fiancée for the sake of keeping up appearances with her heavily critical parents. Pierre agrees and he quickly wins over her parents by his easy charm and more magician-tricks. In typical thriller style, and with a plot full of the complexities and coincidences that Hitchcock and directors like Claude Chabrol would use, Lelouch has us quickly questioning whether Pierre is just a ghost-writer for Judith, a serial killer who seduces his child-victims by tricks, or he is someone who has reached his tether in scripting the work of others. In trying to answer the question, “Who is Pierre?” the film unfolds with multiple twists and shifts of direction in which everyone in the movie seems to be hiding something we didn’t know.

Fanny Ardant plays her role in glamorous style as the celebrated novelist, who hasn’t really written a novel for seven years, and Audrey Dana plays the role of Huguette with a great deal of angst and soul-searching allure. The locations for the movie are exotic, suggesting that Lelouch is much more comfortable with the high end of luxury in life, than with its ordinariness, thus setting him apart from Hitchcock and Chabrol who imbedded sinister ordinariness into their fertile imaginations. Pinon plays the role of Pierre with great ambiguity and virtuosity. At the same time he is both saint and sinner, and he seems the perfect, if unlikely, character to capture Lelouch’s obvious interest in deception and the art of killing.

If one accepts the plausibility of the script and allows the plot to take you where it wants to go, this is an engaging thriller that maintains considerable suspense and keeps you guessing. The complexities and surprise twists get too much at times, and the movie’s plot looks contrived (obviously, intentionally so). “Crossed Tracks” was the name of the last novel Judith supposedly wrote and it is given a different (double) meaning in the film by its end. Is Huguette really a hooker or does she just dress the hair of hookers? Does Judith really plan to kill Pierre? What does Pierre have in mind for Judith? And who is the serial killer? With Lelouch’s talent, however, it is best to hold out till all the characters collide, their relationships disentangle, the true victims reveal themselves, and everyone’s secrets are revealed. In the meantime, the cinematography helps to carry the viewer along in an escapist way. This is a suspense movie, but there is more to it than that. It is stylish, has more than a touch of interesting comedy associated with its thrills, and it entertains in a very French way.

Samuel Goldwyn Company Out now

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film and Broadcasting Office

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