Thursday 20 April 2017

Simenon on Film (2) - Pierre Granier-Deferre's LE TRAIN from a backchannel source

For those outside France, Pierre Granier-Deferre is one of those near anonymous French directors whose work was a key commercial part of that amazing national output of 150 features or so every year that continues to this day. They fill up the big complexes on the Boulevards, their publicity being managed like clockwork. The trailers and the posters hit the town together along with the reviews and interviews and there have always been every year a handful that were big hits.

I’m not sure if Granier-Deferre had any of those monster hits but he had a career that lasted close to forty years. He seemed to carve it out, almost Merchant Ivory-like, doing adaptations. Among them were a half dozen or so Simenon adaptations, if you count the three feature length Maigret adventures starring Bruno Cremer and shown on French TV (as well as being released on French DVDs) that came at the end off his career.

Most highly regarded of his Simenon movies is Le Chat, about which more later. Right now the movie under consideration is Le Train, a 1973 film based on Simenon’s 1961 novel of the same name which I haven't read. The  film copy came through what David Hare has called backchannels, fan based activity where a fine copy taken from a French un-subtitled DVD is packaged up for the rest of the world as a result of a fan’s diligent preparation of a set of subtitles. The enthusiasm if the amateur knows no bounds even if the art of the subtitler in compressing and thus simplifying is occasionally not all it should be and you often got a lot of words tumble at you.

Trintignant, Schneider, Le Train
This is most apparent in more than a few stretches of Le Train when conversations start up between lost and fearful Jewish refugee Romy Schneider and fleeing villager Jean-Louis Trintingnant. Trintignant’s pregnant wife is given better seating at the front of a train heading for safe haven at La Rochelle while he’s confined to a cattle cart at the back where vulgarity reigns and sweaty sex in the open is on display.

The train gets divided up and the wife heads on leaving Trintignant and Schneider stranded and free to start up a meaningful relationship where their innermost needs and fears can be expressed. When they finally arrive at La Rochelle, Schneider slips away and Trintignant tracks down his wife and new born child. Gloomy.

Granier-Deferre and his designer have very cleverly integrated newsreels and their own action. The atmospherics work just fine though I’m not sure that either Schneider or Trintignant quite capture the look of the forties. The stars remain resolutely stars.

In the Simenon canon, a minor entry and its availability is unlikely I suspect ever to move beyond those backchannels.

Having simply had the copy passed on, I cant be of more help as to its source.

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