Train, not entirely in Vain 

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The Girl on the Train
Directed by André Téchiné

France's own Tawana Brawley affair—a 2004 incident in which a young suburban Parisian falsely claimed to have been assaulted, cut, and branded with magic marker swastikas by a half-dozen Middle Eastern and black men who mistook her as Jewish—provides the basis for The Girl on the Train, an attempt at imagining the circumstances and diagnosing the consequences of such a bizarre lie. Unemployed and carefree Jeanne (Emilie Dequenne) rollerblades naively from the remote protection of her mother (Catherine Deneuve) to the first-love blindness of a relationship with cocky Franck (Nicolas Devauchelle), who conceals his work for a drug supplier until a deal gone wrong. Betrayed and blamed for her boyfriend's bad decisions, Jeanne seemingly fabricates a role of even greater victimization in order to garner affection, but director André Téchiné's intimate yet quick-moving style doesn't uncover what's significant about this story until its second half. Granted, his handling of issues is often lopsided: only dialogue communicates how the girl's make-believe resulted in diminished concern for real anti-Semitic crimes at the same time as it fed the worst prejudices of France's white majority against inner city youth; meanwhile, varying understandings of and approaches to ethnicity play out in much stronger visual terms, especially in a concluding montage centered around a millennia-old rite of manhood. Still, relationships are Téchiné's forte, and by thoroughly contrasting the meaning of Jewishness and familial bonds for both Jeanne's clan and that of Jewish lawyer Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blane)—patriarch to an atheist son, a traditional daughter-in-law, and a reluctantly Bar Mitzvahed grandson—Téchiné brings out the complex negotiations of identity contained in the smallest social units.

Opens January 22

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