“The metaphor levels are at code-red on Grand Central, an overwrought, over-thought tale of leaking passions inside a nuclear power plant,” begins the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “Here come the hard-hat romantics, tramping up the gangway to circle the core. Radiation sickness, they tell themselves, is a little like being kissed in a bar by a beautiful woman. A little giddiness, a fear of what comes next.” Rebecca Zlotowski’s second feature (after 2010’s Belle Épine), screening in Un Certain Regard, “makes a great show of its blue-collar pedigree and wanton, boozy antics. The film has tobacco on its breath and sweat-rings at its armpits, although it’s not as brawny as it would have us believe. The drama, we realize, is running a fever. That undigested romantic subplot has fogged its senses and weakened its knees.”
“Tahar Rahim is definitely a rising international star following his acclaimed 2008 role in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, and, most recently, in Asghar Farhadi’s The Past,” notes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com. “After a string of films that don’t allow him to even crack a smile, it’s interesting to see what this handsome young actor can do with a role in which he’s a high-spirited, genial guy who can coax a bar crowd to applause while he puts a mechanical bull through its paces. Rahim is multifaceted as Gary, the newly hired plant worker who gets nicknamed Cherno (for Chernobyl). He’s soulful, romantic, smart, and quick to laugh; at ease among men but women love him. Léa Seydoux (Midnight in Paris), his co-worker and clandestine love interest Karole, is styled as smoking hot and voluptuous. The plant itself, with its bulky safety gear, elaborate procedures, and intricate operation, holds genuine viewer interest. All of these elements deserved a less trite script.”
“Gary has jumped from a succession of manual labor jobs and service work,” explains Gregory Ellwood at In Contention. “[H]e becomes part of a team of clean up workers led by power planet veterans Gilles (The Son‘s Olivier Gourmet) and Toni (Inglourious Basterds‘ Dennis Menochet). Gary and his two younger buddies (who appear to be discrete lovers) move into a shared home with Gilles, Toni and a few other workers. That’s when Gary meets Toni’s fiancee Karole… Meanwhile, Gary’s daily radiation readings are reaching levels that could put his employment at risk…. Audiences will clearly recognize Gary’s path of emotionally directed self sabotage, but for every expected moment Klotowski and co-screenwriter Gaëlle Macé surprise with an unexpected turn. Toni may not be the potentially jealous brute he initially seemed to be. Karole may be more loyal to Toni than you’d expect. Gary’s immediate superior may not have his best interests in mind. And, sadly, Gary may not have the transformative arc that the film seems to building towards.”
All in all, a “great premise” gets “bogged down by a weaker second half and an unsure handle on the characters,” finds Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. In Screen, Lee Marshall finds “poise, drama and poetry in the way it’s played out, but the story and characters are too thin, in the end, to achieve meltdown. This is, however, a well-crafted number that feels a little like what might result if you asked the Dardennes brothers to make a cinematic cocktail using equal parts of Summer with Monica and Silkwood.”
“As soon as the project produced by Frédéric Jouve for Les Films Velvet was announced, the media’s sensitivity to the topic made it necessary to keep the details of the plot secret in order to avoid pressure from the anti-nuclear lobby in France,” reports Domenico La Porta for Cineuropa. Grand Central is, after all, based on “a book by Elisabeth Filhol which sparked a commotion by documenting the living conditions of people working in the French nuclear industry, well before the Fukushima disaster.”
The festival‘s had a brief chat with Zlotowski.
Updates, 5/20: “Zlotowski has turned in a beguiling film that impresses as much for its oddly specific and well-researched setting, as for the romance, and maintains impressive narrative and tonal control right up until an ending that falters just at the final hurdle,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist.
The “last shot really is blissfully bad poetry,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “But there are a couple of strong performances from Camille Lellouche, who has an electric emotional intensity, and Olivier Gourmet as fellow plant drones, and Zlotowski actually does demonstrate great care in suggesting that a meltdown is beside the point when you’re lusting after somebody.”
Update, 11/11: “It could all go horribly wrong,” writes Pascal Blum for FIPRESCI: “one can tell by the remarkably moody soundtrack choices—among them the singular bodily sounds of American saxophone virtuoso Colin Stetson—that Zlotowski is part of a privileged bohemian scene. But while her tale of danger and forbidden love is invested with glimpses of hope and a cleverly mastered pop sensibility, its take on a precarious reality remains compassionate. What makes Grand Central truly grand though is this: with her unabashedly romantic worldview, Zlotowski suggests that life, in fleeting moments, can become more cinematic than cinema itself. It may seem silly, but it’s quite daring: Zlotowski goes where directors working in a similar vein—the Dardenne brothers come to mind—would never go. In a way, she’s indebted to Agnès Varda‘s sad and hopeful Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) and maybe also to the flowery love stories of German auteur Rudolf Thome.”
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