My entire familiarity with Patrice Chereau prior to seeing Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (1998) rested on seeing the video presentation of his famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) 1976 staging of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle at Bayreuth. In terms of his talents as a filmmaker this told me nothing, but it proved a good grounding in his approach to the contents of his material. Though completely unrelated in storyline, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train is definitely a product of the same sensibility that produced his Ring staging. The same mix of the high and low realms of art flows through them both: a seemingly incongruous mix of intellectual art and pop art that somehow feels strangely homogenous. This is a film where music by Gustav Mahler and dubbed-into-French film clips from Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddie’s Revenge (1985) coexist comfortably, where a connection between Mahler and the Doors can be made with some degree of persuasion.
The story is nothing more than following a group of people en route via train to the funeral of the brightest luminary in their circle, a modestly successful painter, who insisted that his funeral take place miles from Paris at the family plot at Limoges. At bottom, it’s a kind of Altman-esque character piece—except that the characters are a good bit stranger than the ones usually found in Altman. Slow and moody (nearly half the film is over before the bickering throng gets to Limoges), it’s a thoughtful, sometimes outrageous work that builds a cumulative power by the end. Many of the assumptions we’ve made about the characters (especially a gay couple, both enamored of an HIV-positive youth) prove to be untrue, much in the manner of what the mourners think they know about the dead man. The film focuses on death, but only to come out the other side in a truly astonishing shot aptly backed by Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony, bringing the film to a remarkable ending. A wholly rewarding work for those with the patience for its unhurried pace.