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Ticket to nowhere.

The French drama Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train barely leaves the station

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train * Written by Daniele Thompson, Patrice Chereau, and Pierre Trividic * Directed by Patrice Chereau * Starring Vincent Perez, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Pascal Greggory, and Dominque Blanc * Kino International

The ultimate train moment in a century of great train movies comes at the beginning of Woody Allen's Stardust Memories. Allen dreams he is on a train gazing out the window at another choo-choo across the tracks, filled with gorgeous people, fabulously dressed, making merry, drinking champagne. His car, by contrast, is an island of lost souls: forlorn, pathetic schleppers who appear to be en route to oblivion.

If we could follow that train after it disembarked, chances are the ride would resemble Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train. The sorry creatures who lurch to the faraway town of Limoges at the top of Patrice Chereau's benumbing drama have much to be sad about. They are on the way to the funeral of their great spiritual father, a charismatic painter named Jean-Baptiste (played in blue-filtered reveries by the redoubtable Jean-Louis Trintignant) who touched each of them in powerful ways--and who haughtily expected them to travel to the boondocks to pay him respect upon his death.

Like Chekhov's Masha, however, these railers are really in mourning for their own lives. Each of them drags enough emotional baggage for a monthlong holiday at a decompression clinic for ex-Scientologists. In every train seat relationships crumble and realign as if Jean-Baptiste's passing had set off internal tremors that knocked all of them off their keisters. Jean-Baptiste's tortured nephew Jean-Marie (Charles Berling) is long estranged from his shoe manufacturer father, Lucien, who happens to be the deceased's twin brother (Trintignant again). Poor Jean-Marie is on the outs too, with his pregnant, recovering-dope-fiend wife, Claire (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi).

Also at odds are Louis (Bruno Todeschini) and his lover, Francois (Pascal Greggory), Jean-Baptiste's former lover. Are you following all this? Romantically starved by the withholding Francois, Louis looks for solace in the young HIV-positive Bruno (Sylvain Jacques), only to discover that Francois and Bruno once had an affair behind his back. Still with us? The only character slimier than Francois is Jean-Baptiste's volatile nurse, Thierry (Roschdy Zem), who fathered a commensurately obnoxious daughter with his wife, Catherine (Dominque Blanc). Somewhere in all of this is a transsexual with a thing for high heels (Vincent Perez), who stirs the heart (and wins the shoe collection) of Lucien.

Chereau and his cowriters divide the action into three exhaustingly talky acts: the trip to Limoges, the funeral, and the wake. We spend the better part of the first act sorting out who betrayed whom, a disorientation that is pointedly exacerbated by Eric Gautier's hyperactive camera, darting and whizzing between characters as if it were afraid of getting the cooties. And can you blame it? These people are insufferable. Jean-Baptiste must have been a real prick.

But long before the wake we realize that Chereau's film does not belong to the "me" of the title. Rather, its subject is the nontraditional alliances we all evolve to compensate for the void in our birth families. Jean-Baptiste hated family, we are told, yet he spawned one despite himself--a brood of pugilistic acolytes who duke it out with one another for the title to "dad's" affections.

While the characters are in a constant tiresome state of locomotion, the cast keeps us from jumping off the caboose. Dominique Blanc mysteriously copped a Cesar award for Best Supporting Actress, but the real diva turn belongs to the turbulent Bruni-Tedeschi, whose angular face and agonized gestures suggest Carmen Maura standing in for one of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. But Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train is just a screechy soap opera in arty clothing. Those who don't love it can take two Advil.

Stuart is theater critic and senior film writer for Newsday.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Stuart, Jan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Sep 14, 1999
Previous Article:Entertaining at home.
Next Article:Idol talk.

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