Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (French)

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French director Patrice Chereau has crafted a movie that will be loved by foreign-film buffs and cinema snobs, and viewed with mild disinterest by normal people (if it’s viewed by them at all).

“Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train” follows a large, unwieldy group of people traveling from Paris to Limoges for the funeral of a minor painter named Jean-Baptiste Emmerich. (Jean-Baptiste wanted to be buried in Limoges and, anticipating the hardship this would be for his friends and family, uttered the sentence that provides the movie’s title.)

There are far too many of these people to keep track of them and their melodramatic storylines, and the fact that Chereau likes to use dim lighting and almost black-and-white film stock doesn’t help any in telling them apart.

Jean-Baptiste’s nephew, Jean-Marie (Charles Berling), is in the process of divorcing his Agent Scully lookalike wife Claire (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who is pregnant with his child. Drugs apparently played a part in the breakup, as Jean-Marie is still trying to meet up with pal Thierry (Roschdy Zem) to get a fix. (Thierry, meanwhile, is driving the casket and corpse to Limoges in a station wagon.)

Also, there’s a gay couple named Francois (Pascal Greggory) and Louis (Bruno Todeschini) whose relationship is strained by the presence — on the train and also, inexplicably, at the funeral — of pallid young Bruno (Sylvain Jacques), whom they are both attracted to and who is HIV-positive.

There are also a dozen or so relatives and friends and people whose relationship to the deceased is not clearly explained. (Francois and Louis appear to have been journalists and biographers, and possibly lovers, of the late artist.) The eccentric (read: tyrranical and crazy) Jean-Baptiste had quite a little universe around him, having had sex with people of all genders and social classes. Getting them together for his funeral would, you’d think, be an interesting fly-on-the-wall experience.

The train scenes are filmed with a hand-held camera, giving the sensation of being on the train with the characters. An eclectic soundtrack provides a sense of, well, eclecticism, matching the disparate group of grumpy travelers.

The acting, too, is generally good, though with a cast as large as this one, it’s difficult to get a sense of who anyone really is. (Did I mention the transsexual friend who shows up in Limoges? Well, there is one.)

But what does it all mean? You’d expect a film this light on plot and central theme to be more of an actor’s showcase, but as mentioned before, it’s not that. There is egotism, selfishness, sadness and cruelty among the funeral-goers, but their sentimental, semi-insightful, extremely French dialogue doesn’t add up to much. It’s the kind of movie that art-house fanatics profess to enjoy (primarily because it’s foreign and not commercially popular) while looking disdainfully at those who like their movies to actually amount to something.

C (; R, occasional harsh profanity, nudity, a homosexual sex scene, brief violence, other mature themes.)

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