The Girl on the Train: An Interview with Screenwriter Odile Barski

The Girl on the Train: An Interview with Screenwriter Odile Barski
The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

Odile Barski is a prolific French screenwriter and novelist, who has worked with director Claude Chabrol five times (on The Cry of The Owl, Masks, The Colour Of Lies, A Comedy of Power and Bellamy). This is her first collaboration with André Téchiné. Odile Barski also writes novels and is a well-known TV writer. Birds Eye View caught up with her to talk about her new film The Girl on the Train.

I really enjoyed watching The Girl on the Train. The first thing that stood out to me was that I wasn’t sure where the lines of reality and fiction lay, emphasised by the use of television footage and newsreels. Was this an intentional plan?

The narrative’s main aim is to respond personally to the situations in which the characters find themselves, without relying on so-called journalistic objectivity that views the story from an external view point. This of course opens up the narrative to the inherent uncertainty of fiction, which itself reflects the chaos, both factual and emotional of people tackling their own problems and situations. The film’s central thread follows the points at which the characters’ contradictory truths cross over each other. Indeed, the main story revolves around a lie… [see next question].

What about the character of Jeanne? She is so ambiguous from the start and becomes increasingly so throughout the film, emphasised by the web of lies that she tells to all around her. Why is she so hard to read?

Jeanne, the protagonist, is turned upside down by her own torments. Her central paradox is that she tells a lie about anti-Semitism, which leads to a disturbing truth. She chooses to assume the role of a perfect victim; simultaneously envied, suspected and hated. Her tentative grasp of the truth is emphasised when she meets the young Jewish man for the first time with whom she’ll develop a relationship. They are destroyed by the legal furore surrounding her, in which she has no idea how to behave. Even if Jeanne were to confess, only her own guilt would be relieved; no justification or motive is revealed. The explanations offered by other characters only partially shed light on Jeanne, and are only able to begin to rationalise her lie.

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How was it working with André Téchiné on this film?

My collaboration with André was derailed twice. He came to visit me after Jean-Marie Besset and I had co-written a first draft. We then had to delay this film to both work on our separate projects. Later on I was writing a draft for another project of his, and we came back together. For me working with André was a time of enlightenment, very different from my previous experiences with other directors.

Birds Eye View celebrates women film-makers and promotes films made by women, working towards closing the huge gap in numbers between established male film-makers, and female ones. What is your experience of this industry in France, as a woman? Do you think your experience is different because of your gender?

I don’t believe that my gender puts me at an advantage or disadvantage in my work. It’s more common for me to be aware of potentially problematic dynamics between myself as the writer, and the director of a project. A happy marriage on paper is not necessarily so in practice! I generally prefer good surprises to bad ones in working relationships, and as time goes by, I’m learning to avoid coming across the bad ones.

We look forward to seeing more work by you. What do you have lined up next?

I’m currently writing a thriller for French publishers Editions du Masque. It’s my fifth novel for them; the last one, Héritage Sanglant, came out this January. I’ve recently adapted Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for TV, which will be shot next year, and also Claude Chabrol and I are collaborating on another feature (Odile wrote the screenplay for Chabrol’s 2006 drama A Comedy of Power).

The Girl on the Train is out on Friday. Show your support for Odile Barski and women filmmakers by going to see it. For more information, visit our First Weekenders page.

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