The 1960s in a remote French village. Everyday life is rather monotonous, and events really struggle to make the headlines. Sophie, a young girl, dreams to one day leave the community and make a name for herself – however, she always gets reprimanded by her mother, a well-intentioned but in the same time overly-conservative woman. One fine day, the villagers are notified about the imminence of an event which would change their life forever: revised railway schedules would soon see the train return to their village, after a very long absence.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the film and its plotline, the collection of elements on display here makes for a rather unique combination, and exhibits a very layered approach to hopes, dreams and human ambition. ‘The Return of the Train‘ can be, of course, taken for what it is at face level – an entertaining comedy that is guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s face. Or, its themes can be explored much more in depth, and the variety of metaphors spread throughout the film – centre of it all being, of course, the train itself – hold a lot of meaning while pieces of the puzzle are put together.
Most of the village’s citizens are extremely excited by the break in routine that the resumed train programme will bring them, without being directly responsible for the act itself, however, and often holding rather contradicting worldviews: Sophie’s mother, for instance, welcomes the upcoming reconnection with the outside world with open arms, while in the same time criticising her daughter for dreaming of a life far away from home, and being influenced by the rock current symbolised by The Beatles. The irony is delicious and in the same time funnily innocent – the whole piece does not, at any point, feel critical of a certain worldview or even slightly condescending – it delivers the plot with finesse and subtlety, and leaves the exact interpretation up to the audience.
The acting is excellent, and the overall atmosphere of the 60s, the closely-knit village community ambiance both threatened and somewhat revitalised by the mere mention of outside influence is fantastic in its own right, and expertly showcased by director Sara Grimaldi. Despite the selection of a particular temporal setting, and the remarkable success of its harmonious implementation, this exact element does not seem to play a very important part in the interpretation of the film. There’s a certain universality and degree of generalisability about the events portrayed here, and they feel relevant in many contexts, including a handful of present-day ones.
All in all, ‘The Return of the Train’ is a film that feels both entertaining and extremely relevant, and reminds us why we love cinema in the first place. For its undeniable charm and goodwill, combined with a powerful and significant array of takeaways, which in the end asks the audience to enjoy and think in the same time, ‘The Return of the Train’ has been awarded with the Film of the Month award for the September 2017 edition by TMFF.