On your left you see Jeanne, portraying a young woman (or: girl) descending some stairs to take the local train in Paris (or: RER). And that’s why the film is called The Girl on the Train or (in its original title) La Fille du RER. It may be any RER, but Jeanne (as portrayed by Emilie Dequenne) isn’t any other girl. Jeanne’s story shocked France and many other countries in 2004. Yes, La Fille du RER is based on a true story and this time the producers didn’t make that up to make a larger audience flock to the cinema, this truly happened… or did it?
Let’s scroll back to 2004 and the unsettling news that a young woman was attacked on a local train by a group of youngsters who had taken her for a Jewish girl and had assaulted her. They’d cut some of her hair off and had carved in her belly.
Outraged? Well, so was France. But… prepare yourself for more outrage. Not long thereafter, it was revealed that the attack hadn’t taken place at all and the girl had invented this story. Rather than to question why a girl would do such a thing, the media were angry they’d been used and condemned the girl for inventing such a crime.
Fast forward to 2009 and to a film by André Techiné that tries to shed some light on the backgrounds of this story.
And yes, that’s what we get to see: the full background of the story, though it must be added that sometimes this doesn’t always make for engaging cinema. But as a psychological study it’s a fairly interesting film. Mainly because it shows how things can develop if you’re living a lie, an extreme lie.
The film explicitly shows the involvement of the media in this story, changing Jeanne from the victim of a outrageous crime to a symbol of how today’s rotten society has no respect for other people and victimizes them beyond belief. And then, when the story was revealed to be untrue, rewriting her as another symbol, of a respectless girl with no shame, a lack of knowledge of history and a sick tendency to manipulate the media. (Never mind Jeanne never actively looked up the media to sell her story.)
This is a trap Techiné doesn’t fall for, instead spending from the start of the movie a lot of time portraying the events that led up to the young woman’s fabricated story and developing more insight into this girl’s ‘twisted’ psyche. You get to know Jeanne, feel her despair, see her degree of naievity (i.e. how she was manipulated by her boyfriend) and, despite her errors, you can feel some sort of sympathy for her. Not unlike Rosetta then, Dequenne’s breakthrough role. In fact, you (or at least I did) feel so much for her that by the end of the movie (when Jeanne is jailed for deceiving everyone) you also feel a bit of outrage against the French system, because a jail sentence may not be the right punishment for this girl. (Usually, we don’t tell you how movie end here at DV, but in this case it’s different as a) the film is based on a true story and therefore a bit of googling would’ve given you this information too and b) the film is more of a social study rather than a whodunit thriller.)
If you’re in for a night of engaging cinema, we advise you to seek elsewhere, but if you’d like to find out how people can derail and psychology ticks your right buttons, then you might find this the right movie for the night.
Score: 6 to 6.5/10
Here’s the French trailer with Dutch subtitles. If you’d like to watch it with subtitles, go to the film’s site: