This French soap opera on wheels, an intoxicating brew of art, sex and wit, lands squarely in the realm of overwrought melodrama... and that's a compliment. The enigmatic title refers to Paris-based artist Jean-Baptiste's (Jean-Louis Trintignant) decree that he
be buried in Limoges, where he grew up and where his twin brother still lives. The spirit of tyrannical, omni-sexual Jean-Baptiste looms over his extended family of lovers, former students and assorted hangers-on as they gather at a Parisian train station for the trip to his funeral. The story
focuses on two couples: Claire and Jean-Marie (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Charles Berling) are breaking up, while Francois and Louis (Pascal Greggory, Bruno Todeschini) are dealt a body blow when Louis falls for a fey pretty-boy (Sylain Jacques) he meets on the train. Some dozen other characters
(including Vincent Perez, doing a very effective version of the transsexual taking a bath routine) flit in and out, and for the most part the swirling effect of the cameras and the changing faces and places keep banality at bay. Shooting in handheld CinemaScope on a moving train, Chereau boldly
employs a loud pop soundtrack to alert art house movie-goers that this is not their father's French drama.Known in the US primarily for dark historical epic QUEEN MARGOT, Patrice Chereau's work helps make a convincing case for the vitality of contemporary French cinema. Although his premise is
somewhat more contrived than those behind the films of contemporaries Cedric Klapisch and Olivier Assayas, Chereau cuts straight to the chase and steps on the gas. Stylistically, his greatest achievement is a stunning final shot that shows everyone in their newly found place in the universe.
Reminiscent of the opening sequence of Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND, but even more majestic, it alone is worth the price of admission.
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