Patrice Leconte

L'Homme du Train

Interviewed by Tom Dawson

With such films as "The Hairdresser's Husband", "Ridicule", and "The Widow of Saint-Pierre", director Patrice Leconte has built a reputation as one of France's most versatile directors. In his latest, "L'Homme du Train" (The Man on the Train), he crafts a moving fable about an unlikely friendship between a retired school teacher and an ageing bank robber.

Before the shoot, Jean Rochefort had to pull out of Terry Gilliam's "Lost in La Mancha". Was his health something you were concerned about?

Yes, I was worried about his health. I wanted to show him the script for "L'Homme du Train", and I was worried how I would find him after that experience. I was afraid he might be disappointed and really down - in fact he was quite OK. I knew he had trained a lot for "Lost in La Mancha", and really got ready for that film. He'd learned English to do it. Inside of himself I think there was a wound, and quite a deep one.

Why did you cast Johnny Hallyday in the role of the bank robber Milan?

Whenever you work with major actors like Johnny Hallyday and Jean Rochefort, and whenever you write a film for them specifically, of course you benefit from their own image. And you save time. When you see, at the beginning, Johnny Hallyday stepping off the train with that look and that bag, there's no need to give the audience lots of information about Milan. You immediately know about him as soon as you see him.

Critics have said that "L'Homme du Train" feels like a western...

It's strange - people mention this western reference a lot, but it wasn't purposefully created. It was totally involuntary. I am not a fan of westerns particularly. But on the other hand, when I first saw Johnny Hallyday's silhouette stepping out of the train in that deserted railway station, I said to myself, "This looks like a western setting". That western flavour remains and floats all the way through the movie, but in the end I was not that happy - because it's a western without movement.

Do you dream, like the characters in your film, of another life?

If I weren't a director, I would like to have been an Impressionist painter. I don't know the reasons why - I've always liked colours, and light, and painting. I'm not talented in painting as such, but one can dream. It's a solitary work, which you can do whenever you feel like, whenever you want. You can stop and have a break, smoke a cigarette, have a nap, and wait for the good light to come. In the cinema it's different - you have a crew of 60 people, there are timetables and budgets. It's expensive and complex. I like cinema. I am very fond of it. But from time to time I feel like having some time on my own.