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Grand Central by Rebecca Zlotowski

January 6, 2014

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I was very curious to watch Grand Central – the second feature by Zlotowski – though in my opinion her first film Belle Épine (2010) was overrated my curiosity for her second effort was augmented reading that both Les Cahiers du Cinema and Positif had liked it: it is so unusual to see the two legendary magazines to share the same evaluation of a movie! The title of the film will make a lot of people think of trains but though its opening scene is set on a train Grand Central has nothing to do with railway stations, nonetheless from that train we will see Grand Central dominating the panorama – it is a huge centrale nucléaire (a nuclear power plant, France is the only country in the world getting most of his electricity – circa 80% – from them). On that same train we meet Gary (Tahar Rahim) who is going to this unspecified place in the Lyon area to get a job at the nuclear plant; what will follow is a blend of melodrama – with a cinephile touch linking the story of Karole (Léa Seydoux) and Gary to the French classic Casque d’Or: Gary’s surname is Manda just like Serge Reggiani’s character in  Jacques Becker’s film and at the same time in a way it is a remake of Raoul Walsh’s Manpower – and social cinema: does it work?

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My first problem with Grand Central was with its music: is it a lack of confidence in her cinematic abilities who has led Zlotowski to use this constant rumour? In the rare moments when the non-diegetic music stops here it comes some diegetic one! This is a film whose (not so secret star, it gets almost as much shots than Seydoux’s t&a) star is a nuclear power plant, its sounds would have enhanced this film, they would have been more than enough to create and sustain the tension of the film, or maybe Zlotowski in the editing room realized that the film was boring and thought the loud music would have at least kept the audience awake. Just like in her debut feature Zlotowski seems to have her attention caught by some social situation imbibed with danger and mystery – a motorcycle gang there, the centrale nucléaire here – but she doesn’t know what to do with it: there is no danger nor passion. Tahar Rahim, Léa Seydoux, Olivier Gourmet and Denis Ménochet: what a cast and what a waste of talent! Zlotowski concedes to the viewer a varied and continuous exposure of Seydoux’s body but mademoiselle Léa had never given before such an asexual performance, there is nothing stirring here, just ninety minutes of bore, the French critics loved Grand Central? Ils Sont Fous Ces Français!

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