I don't want to call a movie that's built around a non-event a THRILLER, but Andre Techine's "The Girl On the Train" is a thriller of an almost Seinfeldian nature: it's about NOTHING, but it says a LOT.
(From here on out it all might be a spoiler?)
A note at the end of the film insists reality was just a point of departure, but the plot is "inspired" by a real, huge French scandal that sparked a public outcry and brought forth a renewed wave of European anti-semitism. What happened?
A young woman called Jeanne (Emilie Dequenne) was attacked in a train station by six Neo-Nazi Anti-Semites (at least two of them "dark," meaning Muslim). They mistakenly assumed she was Jewish and proceeded to beat her, chop off her hair, cut her with a knife and draw swastikas on her body.
"Wait, what? Muslim Neo-Nazis?" you say. "That doesn't make sense."
That's right, it doesn't make sense, because it DIDN'T happen.
The girl made the whole thing up.
Divided into two sections, "Circumstances" and "Consequences," the movie tries to explain where a lie so bold could have come from, and so we follow the perfectly normal lives of perfectly normal Jeanne and her perfectly normal mother, Louise, (Catherine Deneuve, winner of several MGTW awards.)
MY GOD THIS WOMAN #261
Jeanne is unemployed and when she's not making typos in her resume she's rollerblading her way into love with a guy who, in typical French fashion, is somewhere between really charming and very creepy. Then her boyfriend gets stabbed in a drug deal that goes wrong, (oh why are those drug deals always going wrong?!?), and when Jeanne visits him at the hospital, he blames the poor girl in one of several absurd-yet-realistic depictions of human behavior. The guy's logic? "He got himself involved with drugs because he wanted to have money for the girl, THEREFORE the girl is to blame for him being a rather mediocre thug and getting stabbed." A dumped, traumatized Jeanne reacts by...
Well, watching a documentary about the Holocaust, slashing at herself with a knife, and faking a hate crime.
Techine keeps us outside Jeanne's thought process so that the actions are complete surprises. It's up for the viewer to fill in the psychological gaps by saying: "She's feeling crummy and unloved, she needs attention, and figures she can throw herself a national pity party AND do some GOOD by creating awareness of hate crimes." It's an idiotic, embarrassing, harmful thing to do, and it blows up on her face because without exception all those who know her realize the attack just doesn't make sense- even as the President sends letters of support to Jeanne.
(Deneuve's acting is so wonderful: this is someone who WANTS to care for her little girl's safety, but can't help but notice her little girl is a FREAKIN' LIAR! Deneuve conveys it all through a pained "please don't make me pretend to believe you" expression as she listens in silence to her daughter's half-baked tale.)
For a director that's all topicality (anti-semitism, xenophobia, media alarmism), Techine is respectful of the audience's intelligence, allowing the viewers to reach their own conclusions when possible, without overpowering nudges towards a moral. What matters here is the endless fallibility of human perception. To the world, this was a simple case of a lying "chicken little" girl. Techine knows that there's no such thing as a simple lie- and "The Girl on the Train" proves that behind every deception there is a lifetime of explanations.