“The Man on the Train” is about the lives we didn’t live, the paths we didn’t follow. It suggests that wherever we are in life, we tend to wonder if things wouldn’t be better if we were somewhere else.
And so there’s a bit of melancholy and longing about this nice little French picture. We meet Milan (Johnny Hallyday), a grizzled, taciturn fellow who comes into town and heads straight for the pharmacy to obtain some aspirin. There he meets Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), a weary, self-affacing older man desperately in need of pleasant company. Milan isn’t much of a talker, but he’s agreeable enough (as long as you don’t pry), and he needs a place to stay.
We learn about each man gradually, and see how different they are. Milan has guns with him and seems to have nefarious work in mind while he’s in town. Manesquier is a genteel retired poetry teacher who works jigsaw puzzles and possesses, he says, “all the skills of a well-groomed 20th-century young woman.” He is careful and deliberate but harbors Wild West fantasies; when he learns what Milan is up to, he sincerely wishes he were daring enough to take part. Alas, he has a heart condition.
The film’s fascinating idea is to have these men become real friends, and director Patrice Leconte (“The Widow of Saint-Pierre,” “The Girl on the Bridge”) explores the peculiarities of male friendship, with its detached emotion and unexpressed affection. They say little to each other of any real consequence, yet you get the feeling they’d die for each other.
Both men live with regret in their lives, one that he never did enough, the other that he may have done too much. The film, in a curious way, gives them a sort of second chance at things, and I enjoyed watching it happen.
B (1 hr., 30 min.; in French with English subtitles; )