Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train
Director: Patrice Chéreau
Screenplay: Patrice Chéreau and Danièle Thompson and Pierre Trividic
Cast: Pascal Greggory, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
NY Distribution Status: now playing (Kino International)

Grade: B-

The craft of screenwriting may be in decline, but it seems as though movie directors and cinematographers just keep getting more and more talented. Patrice Chéreau and Eric Gaultier photograph Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train with such expressive verve and fluidity -- both won Césars earlier this year, and I can't imagine that they didn't deserve them -- that it's tempting to overlook the niggling fact that they've expended an enormous amount of energy and élan on what is essentially a clumsy Gallic take on The Big Chill, with tormented, love-starved neurotics (including at least three drug addicts, several gays, and a transsexual played by Vincent Pérez) substituted for Kasdan's guiltily complacent former student radicals. The dazzlingly chaotic cross-cutting and expert visual and aural shorthand of the first two reels -- set mostly aboard the titular locomotive -- made me so giddy that I wasn't much fazed by not knowing who any of the characters were, or how they were related to each other or to the dead artist whose funeral they're all en route to attend, or basically what the bloody hell was going on in general. Two hours later, however, the high had worn off, and I was still largely in the dark. Simply put, Chéreau tries to accomplish wayyyy too much; by my count, there are no fewer than ten (10) major characters in this baby, each toting his/her own emotionally volatile subplot (the wrong word, really, since there's no main plot to which any of the various threads is subordinate), and the narrative butter winds up spread so thin that none of the scenarios ever progresses beyond 'intriguing.' The ride is both rapturous and frustrating, expansive and arid, like traveling through gorgeous late-July countryside in a car with worn vinyl seats and no air-conditioner. If nothing else, though, I'm grateful to the film for reacquainting me with the ruggedly soulful Pascal Greggory (Pauline at the Beach), who's like Bruce Willis at his taciturn finest, only moreso.