That’s the literary genre Claude Lelouch wanted to evoke in his 41st film, Roman de Gare, a tricky little potboiler with a largely unknown cast. Lelouch, whose lyrical 1966 Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman) made him famous, chose the title as a response to disparaging reviews that compared his recent movies to “photo romances” or romans de gare. “I played the game,” says Lelouch, now 71.
He played a game also with his identity, releasing the film under the pseudonym Hervé Picard. “I wanted one of my movies to be seen for what it really was and not as a Claude Lelouch film,” he has explained. He later called off the ruse, for legal reasons and because he felt it was wrong to show people a Claude Lelouch film when they have bought a ticket for a film by Hervé Picard. “I didn’t want to be a thief.”
It was a deception, appropriate for a film in which deception is one of the themes. The other theme, this being Lelouch, is love. The film’s characters all adopt false identities of some kind, and even the director (who also wrote the screenplay) willfully misleads the audience as to who the characters really are. Ultimately, love overcomes the need to wear masks.
Roman de Gare is considerably smaller in scale and budget than early Lelouch films such as A Man and a Woman, but that suits its cheap-novel aspirations. It is essentially a road movie with interlocking narrative threads.
We first meet middle-aged, not very handsome Pierre (Dominique Pinon) as he drives his car in a rainstorm, listening to a radio program of songs by Gilbert Bécaud, a popular French singer of the 1950s and ’60s. (Windshield shots are a Lelouch trademark, and Roman de Gare is full of them.)
The movie strongly suggests that
He witnesses, at that rest station, a loud argument between Huguette (Audrey Dana) and her fiancé, who drives off without her.
Tensions arise when Pierre and Huguette visit with Huguette’s rustic family, especially when he becomes close to Huguette’s young daughter. If he is the child murderer, then Huguette’s daughter is in danger. Or is he a novelist, planning to use Huguette as a character in his next book?
The movie departs from the story of Huguette to focus on a mystery aboard the yacht of the jet-setting Ratlitzer (Fanny Ardant), who may be planning to kill
Lelouch can call himself Picard and experiment with trash-novel tropes, but it in the end, he is revealed as Lelouch, the eternal romantic idealist.
Originally published in the Cleveland Free Times.