An illicit romance blooms in a powder-keg environment in Grand Central, French writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski’s second feature that has a great premise but is bogged down by a weaker second half and an unsure handle on the characters. Set among the exploited blue-collar workers at a nuclear power plant in France, the story certainly has an unusual setting, which Zlotowski depicts with an almost Loach-ian attention to unfussy, everyday detail. But the torrid love affair that develops against this largely realistic backdrop between two good-looking colleagues (played by blonde bombshell Lea Seydoux and A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim) is too bombastic and clichéd for the film to ever become a single whole.
Though the film’s generally well-acted and benefits from a few cuts of great music on the soundtrack — courtesy of techno-artist Rob, who also scored the director’s first film, Dear Prudence, which already starred Seydoux — Grand Central’s box office won’t be cooling-tower high beyond home turf, though Franco-friendly venues and festivals could opt for niche engagements.
The film opens with Tcherno (Johan Libereau, another Prudence alumnus) stealing the wallet of Gary (Rahim) on a train. The down-and-out youngsters both hope to be hired by a sub-contractor to do decontamination work at a nuclear power plant and before they’ve even arrived at their future workplace, Gary has stolen Tcherno’s wallet in revenge and the two lowlifes have become fast friends.
The lively opening, set to a pulsating score, imbues the early going with a young and reckless energy that mirrors the characters, who’ll risk being laid off if they’re exposed to too much radiation during the unavoidable small accidents that occur, thus putting either their health or their livelihood in the balance for a ridiculously low income.
Gary finds a bed in a nearby trailer park where several co-workers live, including the veteran Gilles (Dardenne regular Olivier Gourmet), who trains the rookies, and the hulking Toni (Denis Menochet), whose fiancée, Karole (Seydoux), is introduced to Gary at a bar where she spontaneously kisses him in an attempt to explain how radiation sickness feels. Immediately, Gary is bewitched by Karole, and soon the two are secretly meeting in the nearby bulrushes for extended bouts of moonlit lovemaking. And as if that sight wasn’t enough of a Hallmark-cliché, the suddenly syrupy score further underlines the point, moving the film far away from the realism of its power plant-set scenes and straight into Lifetime territory.
Continue reading in The Hollywood Reporter