A young woman chops her hair, slices at her skin, and scrawls swastikas in Magic Marker on her torso, then pretends that she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack. The accusation, followed by the exposure of her lie, explodes into a media frenzy. André Téchiné’s The Girl on the Train is based on an actual incident — a fabricated act of anti-Semitism that polarized France in 2004 — but Téchiné, the astringent director of Wild Reeds (1994), backs off from exploring any of the incident’s most obvious ramifications. In The Girl on the Train, what do the French citizens make of this Tawana Brawley-style hoax? We haven’t a clue. And why does the young woman, Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), tell her lie in the first place?
Téchiné spends the opening hour of the movie setting up Jeanne as a Rollerblading, Bob Dylan-listening, underachieving ? provincial princess who is far too close to her severe mother (Catherine Deneuve, turning off the charm), and who drifts into an affair with a sweet-talking jerk of a wrestler (Nicolas Duvauchelle). When the relationship falls apart — violently — Jeanne is lost, and after weeping at a Holocaust documentary on TV, she stages the fake attack. (And she isn’t even Jewish.)
Émilie Dequenne, the stern young star of the Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta (1999), now projects an eroticized bourgeois-feline narcissism reminiscent of Sandrine Bonnaire in the ’80s. She’s a captivating presence, but what Jeanne does never ? totally adds up, and there’s no indication that Téchiné intends it to; he wants the audience to fill in the blanks of her motivation. That puts us in a rather squirmy position, since Jeanne’s lie has a racial-?political dimension that we’re barely even asked to acknowledge. Téchiné has made a half-captivating, half-baffling tease of a movie in which one woman’s destructive whim has the effect of making anti-Semitism look like a myth. It’s a distortion that Téchiné, with a passivity bordering on perversity, does nothing to dispel. B-