André Téchiné on 'The Girl on the Train'
The veteran French director talks to David Jenkins about Ozu, pop music and why walking is better than taking the railway
‘The Girl on the Train’ is based on the real-life case of a girl who pretends to have been a victim of a hate crime. Do you constantly keep an eye out for items in the news to mould films around?
‘Not really. I read newspapers and I follow current affairs. I see the stories that are reported. I’ve made lots of films and this was the first one that was based on a real life event. I think this is because I have a taste for experimentation and almost certainly I won’t be repeating this tact. I see each of my films as being a new adventure. I like to experiment and I certainly do not intend to repeat it like it was some vein I could now exploit. That’s not how I approach my filmmaking. My next film is different from my last one. I try and produce one film against the previous one. I don’t want to be repetitive, for the audience and myself.’
When I first watched the film, it reminded me a little of Ozu, especially as it centres on the relationship between a mother and a daughter and the fact that you’ve got lots of trains in the film and it’s set in the suburbs.
‘I’m very pleased you thought of the connection, but no, I did not have Ozu in mind when I made the film. Actually, what I was looking for in that respect – specifically trains and the suburbs – was that I wanted this modest but nice semi-detached house in the suburbs and I wanted there to be a place from where you’d regularly hear the sound of these suburban trains. I wanted it to be something you could hear all day and through the night and this sound would drill down in to your subconscious. It’s like a constant, persistent rhythm that would in some way influence the girl and the way she told her lie. The film is called “The Girl on the Train” and it’s on the train that she makes up her lie, so I thought that there needed to be the visual presence of this in her home context. I wanted it to be recurrent, almost obsessive.’
The shots inside the train gave the impression that this was when Julie planned her life. Do you travel on the trains a lot and do they give you space to think about moviemaking?
‘For me personally, I think the answer is no. But, in terms of films, yes, you’re probably right. To a certain extent I see movies as a moving train, moving at different speeds and across different landscapes. A train in the night is certainly something that intrudes on your senses – it rushes and rumbles through your perception. It’s an image and a sound. On a personal level, my relationship with trains are not so deep. Most of my ideas come when I’m walking. Trust me on this: when you’re trying to come up with ideas, it does make a difference what position your body is in, whether you’re walking, whether you’re lying on a couch – as any psychoanalyst will tell you, whether you’re ill in bed. So I prefer walking when I’m making films, but I adore trains in movies. “La Bête Humaine”!’
When journalists and critics write about your films, you’re often described as an auteur. Are you happy with that judgement?
‘I don’t see myself as having any kind of label. As far as I’m concerned, I make films for a wide audience, not just the elite. “The Girl on the Train” was based on a real life case, but in my mind it was an action film, not what you’d call “un film d’auteur”. If by auteur you mean that my films have a personal touch to them, then yes, I take that as a compliment, but if you mean that they’re not for everyone, it’s perhaps rather a shame. For me, this is something I see as being very energy-filled, dynamic, exciting. But maybe I’m wrong. In this film there is a scene with a drug dealer where the boyfriend gets stabbed in the stomach, and as far as I’m concerned, this is a film of actions. But is it an auteur film anyway? I don’t know…’
The performance of Émilie Dequenne helped get that dynamism to the screen. She feels exceptionally unexceptional, but very human at the same time. What were you looking for?
‘You’re right about that – she does look and feel very normal. But that’s because I didn’t want to present a caricature of madness with this person. I didn’t want her to look monstrous in any way. It was very important that she had this appearance of being an ordinary person and not particularly upper class. This is what I focused on in the qualities of Émilie – someone who is athletic and energetic but dreams about higher aspirations in society. I would say what is special about this character is the way that she is totally impervious in her lying. Nothing can break down her compulsion to lie. It’s something that could show this contrast between total normality and this exceptional event.’
The music selections in the film are interesting. They add texture to the character motivations and storytelling. How did you choose them? Are you a fan of popular music?
‘Yes, I like pop but I think I prefer classical. With the soundtrack, it wasn’t just a patchwork of songs and bits of music we threw in. We also worked on the musicality of the actors’ voices. By working with a sound engineer, we were able to bring the voices forward in the mix. With the trains, we worked on getting the sounds of them rushing by just right. The sound is very important and it’s very gratifying that you picked up on that. I’d love to go through the sound design in minute detail, but I fear we have no more time.’
Author: Interview: David Jenkins
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