Roman de Gare
directed by Claude Lalouch
starring Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana
Les Films 13 / Samuel Goldwyn Films
There’s nothing like a good French film with subtitles, cool cinematography, and a hall-of-mirrors plot that makes you wonder who really did what. Laclos (Dominique Pinon) has a dark secret; he’s been ghosting famous Judith Ralitzer’s (Ardant) best sellers for years. How she got that popular without any writing skill is an open question, but when she’s hauled in for a double murder, her world gets very small very quickly. While all of France searches desperately for an escaped criminal, scruffy Laclos bums around on the A-6 and hooks up with airhead and depressed loser, Huguette (Dana). Her boyfriend dumped her at a truck stop on a rainy night because of her smoking and addiction to old French crooners. Laclos offers her a lift, and she convinces him to pose as her fiancé to please her hillbilly family. There’s more plot here than I can recall, but its Laclos’ desire to put his name on the next novel and his blunt approach to convincing Ralitzer that puts her in the hot seat.
From the opening high speed run through the mysteriously empty streets of Paris to the unexpected suicide, Roman de Gare keeps you on your toes. Laclos looks like a genial and underemployed Popeye, but never like a killer or writer. Ardant’s character is alternately harsh and erotic, and pouring an old fashioned “sleeping draught” into her wine seems perfectly normal prior to having mercy sex with her. What really makes this film grab you is Huguettes’ white trash family in Praz sur Arly. Mom (Myriam Boyer) looks like she married young and not far from the family tree, sheep roam the house, and the neighbors look like the last time they got out was at Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party.
The script is nearly seamless, the acting convincing and engaging, and while some of the people on the screen are evil, it’s an ordinary evil that any of us might rise to if thrust into celebrity or hired as assistant manager for Circle K. Little dollops of incongruity populate the story — Laclos does impromptu magic while pretending to be Huguette’s fiancé, Huguette fakes a long, noisy orgasm for her mother’s benefit, and Ralitzer pushes Laclos off her yacht only to dry him off and beg him to write another novel under her name. There’s even a rotund TV host of a literary program that actually gets good ratings on French television — that might be the most fantastic scene in the whole film.