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May 1940 - Germany invades Europe, people panic and try to flee by any means possible. In France, Julien, a radio repairman, boards a train with his wife and child. As the men are placed in cattle cars with only the women and elderly allowed in the passenger cars, events begin their fateful turning as the insignificant repairman encounters an attractive fugitive and love begins - a doomed love.Written by
Le train, directed by Pierre Granier-Deferre, is one of the most unknown WWII films ever made, even though it is based on a somewhat famous novel by Georges Simenon. However, Deferre wasn't interested in making a loyal adaption and especially the end differs from the original story a lot. Therefore, Deferre faced criticism and his film has sunk into oblivion, or at least in most cases, for it still has an honorable cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant (who has worked with Krzysztof Kieslowski, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer and Bernardo Bertolucci), Romy Schneider (who had worked with Luchino Visconti and Orson Welles), in the leading roles; and one name worth mentioning is, as a supporting actress: Anne Wiazemsky (who has worked with Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard, just to name a few).
The story starts from the summer of 1940 when a French man, Julien must leave his hometown, by train, with his wife and daughter because of the forthcoming Nazi army. In the train, Julien's wife and daughter are put to a carriage which is reserved for women, children and the elderly. In the result of this, Julien must go alone to the last carriage where he meets a group of people and notes a mysterious, Jewish German woman, Anna -- wonderfully interpreted by Romy Schneider. The film mainly focuses on their relationship and the journey to the unknown from the perspective of the last carriage.
It is a certain road-movie about a train travel during which people steal food, wash up and go to picnics. To observe war, from the perspective of a train and its people, is extremely intriguing, to say the least. For isn't train truly the milieu of our subconsciousness? In the train, our heroes are traveling to their indeterminate tragic destination, characterized by a wistful musical score. The essential idiocy of war is most clearly seen in a scene, where a group of soldiers come rampaging to the train and only succeed to, accidentally, shoot their own soldier's foot.
Le train depicts an escape from occupied France where, in turn, Francois Truffaut's The Last Metro depicts the survival and life in the occupied France. However, the connection between these two titles is entirely unintentional. The biggest flaws of Le train are in its conventional dramaturgy but it still manages to be an original film. The detailed cinematography is almost documentary-like with close-ups of train tracks; scenes of sexual intercourse, eating and washing up. Furthermore, the strength of the film is in the director's luminous idealism and faith in the force of love.
The film uses both newsreel footage and dramatizations; combines fact and fiction, like all historical films and throws the reality of war in front of our eyes. This combination means strong signal of memory; and the eternal relation between past and presence. History has always been an inexhaustible source of political rhetoric and Le train is, in fact, a leftist war film but, what is more, it achieves to relay a timeless and universal emotion of a time when man must lose his humanity, in order to survive. During times like this, moments of child-like joy are brief and transient. During times like this, it is important to love -- which might just be the thesis of this bittersweet film.
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