Brian Ó Tiomáin takes a second look at Grand Central.
Grand Central is a film from rising young French Director Rebecca Zlotowski. Zlotowski co-wrote the script with Gaelle Macé, a screenwriter with whom she collaborated previously on Belle Epine. The film follows an illicit love affair within a community of lower paid workers in a nuclear reactor plant in France.
From early on in the film, we see in the distant background, the giant Nuclear reactor chimneys. Those scenes had resonance for me. Some years ago, I drove through France from Normandy along the Loire valley down to the Swiss Border.
I was amazed at the number of nuclear reactor plants that I passed en route. I had a queasy feeling every time I passed one of these smoking giants and always felt the better for looking at them through the rear view mirror as distinct from the windscreen.
I got the same queasy feeling watching Grand Central as we moved progressively closer and eventually into the heart of the Nuclear Reactor.
Tahir Reymour is impressive in the lead role of Gary, a young man with very little money or prospects. Gary is prepared to take risks to improve his situation and seeks a job as a decontamination sub-contractor at a nuclear power plant in the lower valley of the Rhone.
Recruited by supervisor Gilles and veteran Toni, Gary discovers that the risk of radiation contamination is much higher than he was led to believe. Gary continues to take risks when he begins a torrid affair with Karole, Toni’s fiancée. This is maybe not the wisest of choices, given that Toni is directly responsible for Gary’s safety within the plant.
The film makes impressive use of sound design to enhance the pervasive sense of of claustrophobia within the plant. There is a tension whenever the action moves inside the reactor, where any lapse in concentration can have serious consequences for all present. We learn a lot about the health and safety aspect of the nuclear power plant system while within those walls. While it was instructive and engaging, I will not be visiting one of those sites to develop my knowledge further.
The sense of claustrophobia within the plant extends into the cramped living conditions of this little community of lower-paid workers who live together and socialise together. The use of handheld cameras and close-ups add to the growing sense of volatility within the reactor and within the social dynamic of this tight knit group.
Karole is played by Lea Seydoux, who worked previously with the director on Belle Epine. Both won awards on their first collaboration. Seydoux has a commanding screen presence and will be remembered from Blue is the Warmest Colour and the Grand Budapest Hotel.
As the film moves towards a climax, one has a sense that things may not end well for Gary and Karole. And while not wishing to reveal too much of the plot, there were developments in the final third of the film which surprised me.
Grand Central is gritty and felt distinctly French in style. It won the Francois Chalais prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The narrative manages to combine a love story with issues of social and environmental concern without appearing to be preachy.
While I might have reservations about some aspects of the resolution, Grand Central is very well served by its cast, by the photography and by its use of sound. That is impressive for such a young director. I look forward to seeing more of Rebecca Zlotowski’s work in the future and I expect we will see further collaborations with Lea Seydoux.