A poet and a thief: Two strangers with nothing in common are about to trade their lives for a chance to cheat their destinies. “Man on the Train” (“L'Homme du Train”), premiering in Geneva at the Smith Opera House on Sept. 4, is a witty and poignant story of the unlikely friendship between two men from acclaimed French director Patrice Leconte (“Monsieur Hire,” “The Girl on the Bridge,” “The Widow of Saint-Pierre”).
In a sleepy French backwater, a train pulls into a deserted station, depositing a lone passenger: a grizzled man in a fringed leather jacket. He looks like a criminal, albeit an aging criminal, a man who has never before asked questions of life or made deep connections with anybody, arriving for a final showdown, and he is. But, within minutes, he bumps into a local retired poetry teacher in dapper clothes, a man who looks like someone waiting for something exciting to happen, who appears perfectly settled in his life. Suddenly, these two disparate men are about to find, at the very end of the line, an unexpected friendship, an opportunity to look back on their dashed hopes, and a magical, momentary chance to explore the road not taken.
Starring screen veteran Jean Rochefort (“The Closet,” Leconte's “The Hairdresser's Husband,” “Lost in La Mancha”) and French rock 'n roll icon Johnny Hallyday, the film won three awards at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, including the Audience Award for Best Picture and Best Actor for Jean Rochefort. Rochefort plays Monsieur Manesquier, a retired poetry teacher who has lived all his life in a small provincial town. Johnny Hallyday is Milan, an aging criminal who arrives by train one day to case out the local bank. Needing an aspirin, he encounters Manesquier in the pharmacy. When the town's only hotel turns out to be closed, Milan reluctantly accepts the elderly man's offer of lodging at his stately old home. As the chatty, erudite schoolteacher and taciturn tough guy spend time together, each observes in each other what they wish they could have for themselves. Manesquier dreams of having been a man of action. Milan covets the pipe and slippers lifestyle of his host. Where they end up is wholly unexpected, but in the few short days they spend together each begins to believe that the chasm between them is perhaps no more than a matter of paths not taken.
“Man on the Train” will be screened at 7 p.m. Sept. 4, 5, and 6 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 8. With a running time of one hour, 30 minutes, it is in French with subtitles. It is rated R for some language and brief violence. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. All seats on Thursday are $3.
Coming soon: “Together,” “Russian Ark” and the Hot Docs of Summer Film Series featuring “Winged Migration,” “Spellbound” and “Capturing the Friedmans.” The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. Call 315-781-LIVE or toll-free 1-866-355 LIVE for additional information. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.