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Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train   A

Le Studio Canal+ / Kino Video

Year Released: 1998 (USA: 1999)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Patrice Chéreau
Writers: Patrice Chéreau, Daniele Thompson, Pierre Trividic
Cast: Pascal Greggory, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Charles Berling, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Bruno Todeschini, Sylvain Jacques, Vincent Perez, Roschdy Zem, Dominique Blanc, Nathan Kogen, Marie Daems, Thierry de Peretti, Chantal Neuwirth, Genevieve Brunet, Didier Brice, Guillaume Canet, Olivier Gourmet, Delphine Schiltz.

Review by Gauti Fridriksson

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train comes from french stage director/filmmaker Patrice Chéreau, whose Intimacy (2000) caused a stir among censors for its 35 minutes of explicit lovemaking. There's not much of that to be found here; aside from one passionate scene in the men's room of a train, most of this film's explicitness is emotional in nature.

The story follows a group of mourners zipping along the French countryside in a train on their way to a funeral. The film's title comes from the deceased's (Jean-Baptiste Emmerich, a painter) wish that he be buried in a town called Limoges, which is quite far from Paris (where he lived for most of his life), and the long train ride is meant as a sort of test of his survivors' love for him.

The film's too-numerous-to-mention characters are a veritable smorgasboard of neuroses, addictions and crises. One gets the feeling Chéreau's going for an Altmanesque (dare I say "Andersonesque"?) ensemble deal, but his style of exposition is so maddeningly confusing that I was left fumbling around with my rewind button for much of the film's first 45 minutes or so. The characters (consisting mostly of the old man's former lovers, friends and students) inhabit a tangled web of problems and relationships that rivals any long-running soap opera and is presented in such a swift yet serpentine manner that by the middle of the film, when a whole new group of characters was thrown into the soup, I could almost feel my sanity slipping away from me.

Fortunately, things become clearer in the latter half of the film, after the diverse bundle of characters go through a touching, harrowing funeral scene and some heartwarming moments at a wake in the estate of the deceased's twin brother, who has lived much of his life in the shadow of his more flamboyant sibling. The film's last third, which takes place mostly in this setting, is rife with melodrama: relationships are broken up, other relationships are mended, and some kind of resolution is reached by most of the characters.

This is one of those films that requires repeated viewings in order to be fully understood and enjoyed. I wasn't exactly awestruck with it the first time around. But on second viewing, I already knew the characters and their basic relationships well enough to be able to concentrate on the mood and tone of the film. This time it cast an indelible spell over me. It's a classic case of "second time's the charm," the same as it is with many other brilliant films, such as Magnolia and Heat.

There are many memorable scenes, such as a walk taken by one of the characters in the beautiful Limoges graveyard (the biggest in Europe, with 185,000 graves), as Björk's "All Is Full of Love" floats ethereally in the background. And then there's a final scene which has to be seen to be believed, utilizing some wonderful camerawork in a montage of extraordinary beauty. The acting is world-class across the board, but special mention goes to Vincent Perez who has an unforgettable performance as a sweet, sensitive transsexual.

Many people will find this film a chore to sit through. Others will find it enthralling from the very beginning. Yet others, like myself, will find it somewhat difficult to begin with, but on closer inspection will see its unmistakable charm. This is filmmaking of the highest order.

Review published 03.12.2001.

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