Man on the Train (L'Homme du Train)
If you like character studies in essentially a two-handed narrative, you'll not get better than this.
"Man on the Train" was my favorite film at the 2002 Toronto film festival. It has characteristic French sensibility (friendship of 2 middle-aged men) and ironic world-weariness (a bank robbery is just a job)
When Johnny Hallyday's (forty years ago Hallyday was called the "French Elvis") craggy-faced tough guy comes to a small French town, he is hospitably housed by Jean Rochefort's eccentric retired teacher in his cluttered but warm family estate. Each man faces a defining Saturday: Rochefort a triple bypass operation and Hallyday a heist. Before the day is over, the two become friends, each longing to be like the other: teacher wants to be a cowboy gunslinger and outlaw wants to be a pipe-smoking professor.
Director Patrice Laconte uses some of the magical visual techniques from his magnificent "Girl on the Bridge"--the men visually change places in the street like long-lost ghosts. He also brings the caring characterization of "Monsieur Hire" and the quirkiness of "Widow of St. Pierre."
To the end they are non-magically in character: Rochefort garrulous and erudite and still vigorous enough to have a mistress; Hallyday taciturn but warm, tough and teacher-like (when he teaches Rochefort how to shoot a gun and substitutes for him with at student). Laconte, however, never forgets his realism: Rochefort's old friend, Vivienne, talks incessantly at dinner, about which the irritated Hallyday says, "He wants tenderness and sex, not news of your brat." Also, to a fellow bank robber who claims the job will be easy, Hallyday says, "You can choke on cake."
Both men exit still dreaming the other's life but content to accept the fate already decreed. If you like character studies in essentially a two-handed narrative, you'll not get better than this.