The girl of the title is sensitive young woman Jeanne (Emillie Dequenne) and the train is the setting for a reported anti-semitic assault from a group of youths. However the alleged incident and the fallout seems to play second fiddle to a slow burning character study of youth and French politics. At times it’s tricky to figure out just what the Andre Techine’s film aiming for.
Jeanne is a lonely woman struggling to find her place in the world, with little experience or qualifications she lives at home with her Mum Louise (played with great ease by Catherine Deneuve) who is constantly egging her daughter on. Things take a turn when oddball wrestler Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle) comes into their lives and develops a passionate relationship with Jeanne. The couple take a job as caretakers at a DIY store where they live together for a week while the boss is out of town. A violent incident almost leading to Franck’s death brings a police enquiry over drugs on the premises and leads to the break-up of the relationship. The fallout leads to Jeanne taking a keen interest in the history of Jewish people in France. Louise grows ever concerned that her daughter is having a break down.
At times the film feels like an Eric Romer picture with its drawn out scenes, incidental character play and melancholic flavour. The central message seems be about how a teenager/young adult is in the most danger when they are bored and feel out of step in world. This is a subject explored in much more devastating fashion in Mexican film I’m Gonna Explode from earlier this year. Another strong theme is the divide between middle and working class in the country. The ironic thing is that these strands are far more realised than the central story and the motivation of Jeanne.
Emillie Dequenne’s turn brought to mind the early Scarlett Johansson appearances, reserved, cut off and just unimpressed by her surroundings, in indie flicks such as Ghost World and Lost In Translation Johansson seemed far removed from the Hollywood diva she would quickly become. Similar traits are displayed by Dequenne here where you might think a little more desperation might be called for. Even during the intense relationship with Franck I got the impression than Jeanne was being very casual about the whole thing. Maybe this is done on purpose to give us the sense of the character being disconnected from the world. The young performer grows in presence the darker the tone gets. She just about pulls off what is a very difficult part.
The final third is the weakest being a little too ponderous; as the story grinds to a halt it does also feel anti-climatic. However there is more than enough in the style, politics and acting to make it a worthwhile watch.
Director: André Téchiné
Cast: Émilie Dequenne, Nicolas Duvauchelle
Runtime: 105 min