The Girl on the Train (France 2009, 105, dir: Andre Techine, cast: Emilie Dequenne, Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Demy, Ronit Elkabetz, Michel Blanc).
Tough enough to make a good film about something real that really happened. Almost as tough to make a film about something real that really didn’t happen. The Girl on the Train never comes to grips with the dark mind of the paranoid imaginer who made up this amazing story; or her motivation. Jeanne (Emile Dequenne) is a young woman in bitter battle with her mother Louise (Catherine Deneuve). She finds her revenge against mother and the world by claiming she has been attacked by black toughs on a suburban commuter train outside Paris.
The commuter lines of the RER go lots of places around Paris. The trouble with Andre Techine’s movie is it doesn’t go anywhere. At the end we learn that she faked the whole episode. That’s disappointing for a film so interesting to watch; and gripping while you still think there’s a truth lurking around the corner.
Where The Girl on the Train becomes even more intriguing is when you look beyond the movie to the event that inspired it. In 2004 Marie Lionie Leblanc claimed that she had been attacked on the RER by a gang of blacks who ripped her clothes, cut her hair, and drew a swastika on her stomach. In the violence they knocked over her infant baby’s carriage. Passengers looked on but did nothing to help.
French politicians wasted no time in condemning the incident and Ariel Sharon told French Jews they had better pack up and immigrate to Israel to avoid this new “wildest Anti-Semitism.” The only problem was: Marie made it all up. No witness every came forward and within days the police proved she was lying.
That happened in 2004. But it echoed a 1987 incident that is almost the flip side. A 15 year-old black girl from Wappinger, New York (less than an hour north of New York City) claimed six white men raped her. Tawana Brawly said several of them were policeman, and one was a district attorney. The politicians went wild.
Black politician Al Sharpton seized upon it as proof of police hatred of blacks just as Ariel Sharon grabbed on to the RER incident as proof that the French hated Jews. Tawana never recanted her story. The grand jury did it for her. They failed to vote even a single indictment.
So the real story of The Girl on the Train should have been more about the mind of the fibber. What kind of person makes up this stuff? In the case of Tawana, and I suspect the same might apply to Marie; it is a hopelessly paranoid individual who can best make human contact by playing the victim. Tawana converted to Islam and moved from Wappinger Falls to tiny Claremont, Virginia. She changed her name, bought an attack dog, and began working as a nurse in a nursing home.
She’s never married, keeps to herself, and rarely ventures beyond Claremont except when she accepts free flights and limousines on returns to New York as a guest at United Africa Movement events.
I wish the film made clearer the pattern of a paranoid mind that understands how to jump on a hot button issue and sprinkle just enough truth to feed the flames. The reward is 15 minutes of fame and a celebrity glow that, if you play your paranoia right, can last your whole life.