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Why is she here? Ardent in Roman de Gare.

Herring Do

By Ann Morrow

Roman de Gare

Directed by Claude Lelouche

Dominique Pinon is a talented actor, but only in a French movie could a short, pudgy, aging man—with a face like a frog crossed with a gourami—arouse the lustful admiration of the two beauties played by Audrey Dana and Fanny Ardent. In Claude Lelouch’s Roman de Gare, a mediocre literary thriller, Pinon plays “Louis,” a man of mystery who we first see driving in the rain, listening to a radio news program about a serial killer on the loose. Ardent is Judith Ralitzer, a famous novelist who writes popular mystery stories; her vineyard-owner husband supposedly committed suicide. During the crosscut opening, Judith is interviewed on a TV talk show and questioned by the police for murder. At the same time, while Louis is driving, Huguette (Dana) is having a nasty argument with her fiancée; the fiancée leaves her by the side of the road and takes off in her car. She is stalked, or befriended, by Louis, who offers her a ride to her family’s farm. Louis eventually tells her that he is Judith Ralitzer’s ghostwriter.

Roman de Gare is partly a character study, and partly a suspense story regarding Louis’ real identity. However, the characters are not involving and barely likeable, and the tension is contrived and boringly constructed. Huguette, a hairstylist, pours out her heart to Louis, telling him at length all of her faults, and that she drove her fiancée away because she is overly emotional. Although Louis looks like a bum, he is somewhat witty and tells Huguette that he is going to use her as a character in Judith’s next novel. Huguette is charmed, and invites him to the farm so he can pretend to be her fiancée. Louis agrees, and assumes the persona of a doctor. Although he only jokingly goes along with the ruse, Huguette’s country-folk family members are impressed by his vivacity (the audience will be much less so), and Huguette falls for him.

The red herrings are too lame to wriggle much. The great Ardent (who gets the least amount of screen time) is wasted playing Judith, a frail and shallow woman who is too busy being a glamorous celebrity—her office is aboard a luxury yacht—to write her own books. And because the interactions and interrelations between the characters are mundane, there isn’t much tension about who the murder victim might be, and even less about what the murderer’s motivations are when the victim is revealed. Even a trashy, pass-the-time mystery novel would be more diverting than this middling attempt to mesh writerly and cinematic mystery conventions.

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