Back in the ’60s when foreign films were all the rage, art house patrons flocked to the theater to see Claude Lelouch’s “A Man and a Woman,” a romance enhanced by what proved to be an immensely popular and hummable title song. You know how it begins:
Da-Da-Da/ d-d-d-d-dt. d-d-d-d-dt.
In retrospect, the fluffy ode to love was a novelty and not as evocative or as lush as Lelouch’s “And Now My Love,” which I suggest you try to rent if you are really serious about champagne and romance.
Now, at 70, Lelouch is offering us another winsome gift. It’s a romance as well as a mystery-melodrama with tinges of Hitchcock shimmering along its edges.
‘Roman de Gare’
DIRECTED BY Claude Lelouch
SCREENPLAY BY Claude Lelouch and Pierre Uytterhoeven
STARRING Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana, Michèle Bernier and Zinedine Soualem
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
Its main protagonists are a best-selling author, her ghost writer and a hooker-turned-hairdresser. I cannot divulge much without tarnishing your enjoyment or marring your appetite for suspense, but I can reveal that it comes at us from an angle. It’s a work with some unexpected twists and tantalizing U-turns. It is, if you prefer a culinary metaphor, a tasty little soufflé.
My French-speaking friends tell me that the best translation for “Roman de Gare” is “Airport Novel.” Yeah. Now that I’ve see the movie, it makes sense. Sitting through the film is like reading that delightful little book you picked up just before boarding a long flight. Turn the first page and before you know it, you’re finishing it just as your plane hits the runway.
And then you go on.
Killer on the loose?
When the film opens, we meet Fanny Ardant; she plays Judith Ralitzer, whose newest novel is being praised by a TV interviewer. She squirms when he tells her that though her last works were not too hot, this one is marvelous.
Soon, we will meet Dominique Pinon, the terrific actor who starred in “Delicatessen.” He’s driving along, listening to news informing listeners that a serial killer has escaped, a pedophile who lures victims with magic tricks for kids. Soon, there’s reason to believe Pinon’s character might be the psychopath, and when he offers a ride to the lady (Audrey Dana) left at a road stop gas station by her fiancé, we expect the worst.
Dana’s Huguette is a fresh creation. She takes the guy home; he poses as the fiancé who has dumped her. She has a kid. Meanwhile, there’s more about this author, who may not be penning her own works. And this guy who you feel sure is the killer: You get to like him.
In typical Lelouch style, the narrative toys with us, taking sharp turns at unexpected moments, but with Lelouch at the controls, these detours merely whet our appetite. If you’re out to be entertained and challenged just a wee bit, “Roman de Gare” may be that tasty little meal you’re looking for.