Man on the Train (8)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


Milan (Johnny Hallyday) gets off a train in a small town in France and meets Monsieur Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), a retired poetry professor, who offers to put him up in his gothic mansion he inherited from his mother, and where he has lived as a bachelor since his mother died.  Milan is actually in town to rob the local bank. The two men bond in a strange way, exchanging stories of their lives and each grows to envy the other.  This is a poignant, sometimes humorous story without sex, violence, or profanity. 

Johnny Hallyday’s craggy face is a reason in and of itself to see this film.  Character actor Jack Elam had one of the great cinematic faces, but Hallyday rivals him. 

One negative of this film, and one that plagues many foreign films, is post production blues.  I’ve never understood, in this age of amazing special effects, why films with subtitles can’t have white subtitles when there’s a dark background and black subtitles when there’s a light background.  Yet when the left side of the screen is light, for example and the right side is dark, you can’t see the subtitles on the left side because the white subtitle blends with the light background, or vice-versa.  When filmmakers can make people fly, and John Wayne advertise products that didn’t exist when he did, are you telling me that they can’t make subtitles that blend properly with the background so you can read them?

Worse is the translation.  I saw Man on the Train with a woman who teaches high school French and was born and raised in France (is that enough qualification?).  She told me the translation was pitiful.  As an example, there’s a line that’s translated as “he has no tits,” which didn’t make much sense when I read it.  She told me the actual dialogue was “he has no balls.”  Now if the translator doesn’t know the difference between “tits” and “balls” someone’s being pennywise and pound-foolish.  It’s a shame that a wonderful film like this, one that depends on an intelligent script, is so bedeviled by poor post production work involving the subtitles.

 This film has a point.  The film critic for the Los Angeles Times missed it completely, but then her reviews generally indicate that she either doesn’t actually watch the movies she reviews or she can’t comprehend what she’s seeing.  Regardless, this is a slow movie.  But if you like good writing and good acting and good directing and a good script and are patient and willing to think, this can be rewarding. In French with subtitles.

 May 12, 2003

 The End