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At the Movies: The Labyrinth: Roman de Gare ***1/2

The blockbuster season is upon us, which should send any substance-craving filmgoer straight for the art house. Big, flashy entertainment extravaganzas have their place but will hopefully never supplant those films that tell intriguing stories and perhaps illuminate our lives, even if for only a moment or two.

One of the films worth seeing is Claude LeLouch’s Roman De Gare, or Crossed Tracks. This is a distinctly French film with sensibilities that are so utterly un-American it was refreshing to sit through. For once, the plot isn’t necessarily inevitable nor predictable but it is, strangely enough, satisfying in the way everyone hopes it will be.

LeLouch doesn’t mess around with right and wrong nor does he want his audience to feel pain particularly, but he does require that they think for themselves along the way, a true rarity these days. LeLouch, who has been making “experimental” films for years, lets his story unfold mysteriously, as if not even the actors knew what was going to happen next, and perhaps they didn’t.

To give away the plot details would spoil the experience almost entirely so I will refrain from doing so. This is a film about writers, lovers, parents and above all, the mysteries of life. This is a layered, intricate “airport novel” in and of itself as it takes us through the rural landscape of Burgundy to the seas in and around Cannes. Above all, it shows us original characters in a way only foreign films seem able to do anymore; Americans are so judgmental, particularly about women. We have to see them as good or bad with no shades of grey in between.

The film is held aloft by three lovely and vibrant performances. The scene-stealer of the movie is Audrey Dana as the odd and mercurial Huguette. She is a mess. What a great character, and someone you’d never see in an American film because she isn’t so easily understood nor defined. At the beginning of the film she’s fighting with her fiance, whom she’s only marrying to please her country-living folks. She has left her young daughter behind to be raised by her grandparents because Huguette is, well, a “hot mess” who lives her life by taking one unsure step at a time.

Dana leaps off the screen and has that ability to look like many different women at once, depending on how the light is hitting her angular face or whatever mood has drifted across it. Fiery, sad, probably nuts, Huguette is, as it turns out, the heroine of this complicated tale.

The main character, though, is played by familiar French actor Dominique Pinon. We’re never quite sure who or what he is until the very end of the film but he is wonderful as giving us a poker face. He is a master magician and life is nothing but one magic trick after the next.

Finally, the luminescent Fanny Ardant, who is joining the ranks of those inexplicably youthful looking French actresses, plays an iconic author of mysteries who is on the lookout for a new character for her latest book. She is used to having her life play out as written until someone else starts doing the writing.

Roman De Gare is a film that twists and turns as if it’s taking you down a long and winding road, destination unknown. The film seems to be saying that in life and in art you don’t know where you’re going until you get there.

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