by HELEN GEIB
Roman de Gare is the latest film from the prolific French writer and director Claude LeLouch (A Man and a Woman, And Now… Ladies and Gentlemen…). It is a sprightly, multi-layered mystery story. There are many layers of mystery in the plot, and a few meta-layers that invite the audience to join LeLouch in reflecting on the joys of storytelling and invention.
I won’t attempt to summarize the plot. The effort suggests, and is rather less likely to succeed than saying a tongue twister in a foreign language three times fast. Aside from the probable futility of the undertaking, knowing the plot ahead of time would sap most of the pleasure of watching the film.
Because it’s hard to evaluate whether a movie will be to your liking without knowing anything about what happens, I will instead suggest the outline of the story by briefly introducing the main characters. Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant) is famous as the author of bestselling potboiler thrillers. Huguette (Audrey Dana) is a youngish woman whose boyfriend drives off and leaves her at an interstate gas station when they start fighting on the way to meet her family. Pierre Laclos (Dominique Pinon) meets Huguette when he offers her a ride after witnessing this scene. Principal supporting characters are a middle-aged woman whose husband goes missing, the police officer who takes her missing persons report, and the members of Huguette’s family.
Who all these people really are and how they are related to each other is slowly revealed, with new revelations occurring continually throughout the film. Laclos’ identity is the focal point, but all three of the main characters and some of the minor ones receive their own personal mysteries as well. Ralitzer has center stage in the film’s initial scenes, a fitting beginning to a plot of feints, double blinds, and twists and turns that consciously evokes her chosen literary genre.
Roman de Gare is a light, clever, amusing concoction. It constantly teases the viewer with hints and suggestions and new mysteries. Nothing is meant to be taken too seriously. The film is an intellectual game and the viewer has an open invitation to be in on the joke, to play along and take delight in the mental exercise.
Concomitant with this approach, characterizations are shallow and the performances, while able, count for less than the script. That the characters experience happiness and sadness, and whether their ends will be joyful or tragic, never feels very important. The limitations are self-imposed and go more to defining what the film is than to compromising its effectiveness.