A Psychological Drama

Amos Lassen

Director Patrice Chéreau’s “Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train” is a bleak psychological drama that has a gathering over for a funeral for an elderly misanthropic, bisexually active minor painter Jean-Baptiste Emmerich (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The painter became something of a father figure to a disparate group of close friends. The title refers to the dying words said by the painter.

A group of about twelve family, friends, lovers, hangers-on and assorted weirdos leave Paris by train for a four-hour trek to Limoges, where the artist’s funeral will take place as he had requested. His coffin is on a station wagon traveling parallel to the train and being driven by drug addict Thierry (Roschdy Zem), husband of Catherine (Dominique Blanc), who’s on the train with their bratty daughter Elodie. On the train the cast of characters share why the artist, an admirer of Francis Bacon’s sadism, was revered even if he was a bastard. We also hear other gossipy revelations and learn about the group’s stormy relationships and their dysfunction. While there’s not much in the narrative, the actors seem to intensely put everything into their performance and give it an air that something big is taking place. The direction highlights interesting shots of intensity from the passengers in the claustrophobic moving train and when reaching Limoges, a city of 140,000 residents that holds the largest cemetery in France with 185,000 corpses, it captures the chilly atmosphere of the artist’s birthplace and introduces us to the rest of the artist’s family including his shoe merchant twin brother Lucien (Jean-Louis Trintignant, in a double role). He’s in a worried state about dying, losing his estate and still holds some deep resentment for his selfish brother. Lucien exclaims that his brother took his wife and son Jean-Marie (Charles Berling), and left all of his estate to Elodie.

Some of the mourners on the train include art historian Francois (Pascal Greggory) and his lover Louis (Bruno Todeschini), who has a quickie with the attractive teenage Bruno (Sylvain Jacques) aboard the train and finds himself in love, and then discovers from Francois that Bruno was his lover and is HIV-positive. Jean-Marie is a former drug addict who has long been estranged from his father Lucien and has a volatile relationship with his pregnant wife Claire (Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi). They are both junkies and their uncle Jean-Baptiste had an affair with his nephew. Jean-Marie upsets everyone at the funeral with his eulogy, where he says “Nature is efficient, it kills things that are half-dead.” Also along for the funeral is Frederic (Vincent Perez) who under Jean-Baptiste’s influence had a sex change operation and is now Viviane, and flirts with Lucien as he buys her a pair of red high-heels.

Eric Gautier’s jumpy camera succeeds in a great sense of loss, but the narrative intellectually fails to give off any gravitas except in showing the mourner’s deep feelings in their life and death struggle to find a way to cope without their leader’s guidance.

On the surface, this is a simple story with an artist who dies of heart failure. His friends and family travel to Limoges for the funeral. Most leave after the ceremony. A few stay in the big house overnight and leave in the morning. But beneath the surface, passions flame, emotions claw and scratch, old wounds open, new ones are inflicted. The air is filled with lust, loathing and intrigue. Love is masked by grief and betrayal. ‘The specter of drugs, Aids and death is ever present. The ideal of a united family mocks the reality of a manipulative old man’s play things, as the promiscuous excitement of homosexual infatuation contrasts with a running war between former lovers.”

Performances are almost too perfect. Vincent Perez’s transsexual is remarkable. Jean-Louis Trintignant, in the dual role of the dead man and his brother, reminds those who have forgotten the triumph of his early years that talent matures with age. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, as the estranged partner of the artist’s nephew performs with an intensity.

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