On a cold weekday a single passenger gets off the train at a French village. The hotels are closed for the season, but he meets an elderly retired school teacher who offers him shelter. The first man is Milam (Johnny Hallyday), a tough, middle-aged criminal who plans to rob the village's bank on Saturday. The other is Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), an educated, aging man of limited means who still occasionally takes in a student to tutor. He will have a triple by-pass heart operation on Saturday. Within minutes I was engrossed in Patrice Leconte’s Man on the Train.
Manesquier soon learns why Milam is in town, and appears to accept this without judgment. As the days go by toward Saturday, Milam finds himself reading books from Manesquier's library, asking to wear a pair of slippers in the evening, accepting a pipe of tobacco to smoke. Once Manesquier is late and a young pupil shows up at the door. Milam takes the boy in and leads him through the assignment on Balzac. "I'll be your teacher today," he says, although he has never read Balzac. He does an excellent job of it. Manesquier tries on Milam's black leather jacket and holds the gun he finds in Milam's luggage, one of three. He visits the barber shop and asks for a haircut, something between just out of jail and soccer player. He asks Milam to teach him how to shoot, and wishes he could help in the robbery. Both men, so different from each other, accept each other for who each is. Each recognizes a longing to have led a different kind of life than what he has; in fact, to have led the kind of life that the other has led.
Saturday arrives. Manesquier goes to the hospital for the operation. Milam meets two accomplices and goes to the bank for the robbery. The conclusion of the movie is mysterious, elegant, sad and satisfying. Both men find, in a way, their new lives.
This is a movie where, for me, all the pieces fit together. Rochefort and Hallyday are excellent; both are actors who don't need dialogue to express a point. They are old pros but of different types. It’s fascinating to watch how thy work together, with each character gradually working into each other’s skin. The movie is about paths not taken. It also has a great deal of wry humor. Manesquier is a man of few illusions, as is Milam, but he also is able to look with amusement at himself and at their situation in life. I can also recommend Leconte's Monsieur Hire, The Widow of Saint-Pierre and Ridicule.
... and if you compare this polished black jewel of a film with anything made in English, you'll have to recognize why they still hold the patent! Milan, the hard silent menacing dude played by Johnny Hallyday, arrives by train in the 'deadest' small town in France, intending to rendezvous with other baddies and knock off the local bank. The local hotel is closed for the season, but Milan is taken in by Monsieur Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), a retired teacher of literature … more
MAN ON THE TRAIN is a minor miracle of a film. The quiet story of how two wholly opposite aging men meet, interact, exchange philosophies, and mutate because of a simple chance meeting is not only fine writing, it is also a virtuoso turn for the talents of Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday. Rochefort is a loquacious, bored, congenial poetry teacher in semi-retirement, a man who not only loves to talk about Schumann but plays Schumann on his piano in his very old and boring house - and reads and … more
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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You wouldn't think a movie that's mostly two old guys talking could be a thriller, but that's exactly whatMan on the Trainis. French singer Johnny Hallyday plays a professional criminal who comes to a small town to take part in a robbery. By chance, he meets talkative Jean Rochefort (The Hairdresser's Husband), who invites the laconic Hallyday to stay at his house because the hotel is closed. The two form an unlikely friendship, each curious about (and envious of) the other's life. But all the while plans for the robbery continue, while Rochefort is preparing for a dangerous event of his own. The pitch-perfect performances makeMan on the Traincompletely involving. Rochefort and Hallyday play off of each other beautifully; it's impossible to put your finger on what makes these subtle, supple scenes so magnetic. Directed with spare authority by Patrice Leconte (Ridicule).--Bret Fetzer