Friday, July 18, 2008

French twist

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2008 at 11:13 AM

mattromandegare.jpg

Lelouch returns with masterful mystery

By Matt Brunson

ROMAN DE GARE

***1/2

DIRECTED BY Claude Lelouch

STARS Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant

Ever since winning a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the 1966 international smash Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman), writer-director Claude Lelouch has steadily turned into persona non grata in the United States, to such a startling degree that most of his movies don't even rate any sort of theatrical run on this side of the Atlantic. Thankfully, his latest film managed to slip through the embargo, as Roman de Gare is a suspenseful drama with enough satisfying twists to keep any mystery hound satisfied.

In an atypical but brilliant bit of casting, the pinch-faced Dominique Pinon (Amelie, Delicatessen) plays a mysterious man who's catching his breath at a highway rest area when Huguette (Audrey Dana), a temperamental hairdresser beaten down by life, gets unceremoniously abandoned there by her fiancé. Alone and frightened, she reluctantly accepts a ride from this odd-looking character. But who is he, exactly? The film hints that he's the serial killer who just escaped from prison. Then it suggests that maybe he's the teacher who abandoned his wife and kids for a life on the road. And finally, the man himself claims to be the personal assistant of -- and perhaps even the ghostwriter for -- best-selling author Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant).

Lelouch and co-scripter Pierre Uytterhoeven repeatedly pile on clues that take us in one direction before swerving down a different path, yet what's especially clever about the plotting is that anything that proves to be merely a red herring is then incorporated into another storyline, thereby minimizing the danger of dangling plotholes. That's not to say the movie is drum-tight -- the climactic revelation isn't as carefully thought out as what precedes it -- but moviegoers in the mood for an alternative to the summer blockbusters will forgive any minor slippage.

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