Based on a play by Jean-Marie Besset, André Téchiné’s The Girl On The Train tells the true story of a young woman who claimed to be the victim of an anti-Semitic attack on a Paris suburban train, only to be exposed as a liar when her story failed to add up. In a city fraught with ethnic tensions, her tall tale opened up fault lines between races, religions, and political affiliations running far deeper than the peculiar lie itself. Much like Laurent Cantet’s great 2001 film Time Out, The Girl On The Train considers a well-known tabloid story on a more human scale, stripping away any hint of sensationalism. Given several years’ distance from the media blitz, Téchiné brings clarity, maturity, and perspective to the case while still subtly addressing all the thorny social issues the affair touched off.
Virtually unrecognizable from her breakthrough role in 1999’s Palme D’Or-winning Rosetta, Émilie Dequenne lends an air of mystery to the eponymous role that the movie never entirely seeks to dispel. Drifting through young adulthood with rollerblading as her only evident passion, Dequenne lives in the suburbs with widowed mother Catherine Deneuve, who runs a nanny business out of her house. When a violent encounter derails Dequenne’s relationship with an aspiring wrestler and small-time hood (Nicolas Duvauchelle), her despair leads her to concoct a lie that will rivet the nation. Veteran French character actor Michel Blanc co-stars as a famous lawyer and Jewish activist who takes Dequenne’s case out of obligation to her mother, but lives to regret it.
Téchiné divides The Girl On The Train into two distinct sections, “Circumstances” and “Consequences,” and they may as well be two different movies, given how dramatically the world shifts once the big lie is set into motion. Apart from minimal bleed from televised news reports—even the president’s backing of the woman’s story gets mentioned only in passing— Téchiné keeps the focus on Dequenne and the conflicted characters in her immediate orbit. Everyone close to her knows she isn’t telling the truth—just because she’s a habitual liar doesn’t make her good at it—but the way each of them processes it and moves to protect her is fascinating and telling. Téchiné allows the “why” of the case to linger tantalizingly unanswered, countering the noise and certainty of public debate with the quiet complexity of human motivation.