Washing away sins in Grand Central

Washing away sins in Grand Central

In Grand Central, Director Rebecca Zlotowski’s adaptation of Elisabeth Filhol’s novel, La Centrale, the drama of an illicit love triangle is set in and around a nuclear power plant, with all its metaphorical and symbolic implications.  Zlotowski keeps the action slow and deliberate, the passion bubbling beneath the surface, and the lovers sensual (and mostly undressed) but it’s hard to understand the characters’ motives, believe in their emotions or care very much about what happens.

Gary (Taher Rahim, star of A Prophet) is an itinerant worker amazed that, despite his lack of qualifications, he sails through an interview for a job he does not seem to understand. He soon finds out that at a nuclear power plant (the Grand Central of the misleading English title is not a train station), career progression is seldom a factor. They target people like Gary who have no other prospects, no family and nothing to lose.  We realise this, creating a feeling of sympathy with the not-very-bright, but good looking, Gary.

Karole (Léa Seydoux, Palme D’Or best actress for 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Colour) is about to marry a fellow worker, Toni (Denis Menochet) with whom she lives in a company caravan opposite Gary’s. She has a great body and is not shy about showing it off (wearing on sexy undershirt-top during most of the film)

Gary and Karole are attracted to one another and begin an affair.  Like Gary, we think that Karole is falling for the handsome, unattached stranger, particularly when she announces that she is pregnant and her fiancé cannot have children.  If Karole is not being honest with Gary, Zlotowski is not being entirely honest with us either.

What Grand Central has going for it is the parallel it draws between the dangers of radiation or accidents each time a worker ventures into the plant and the danger each time the lovers meet.  If the plant overheats, it’s nothing compared to Karole and Gary’s attraction.  But this metaphor has been done better, notably in Strangers by the Lake, released earlier this year.  Here, the metaphor, which is pretty obvious, is all there is to the story.

Grand Central has something else, though. I would bet that more on-screen showers are taken in this film than in any other.  Between the showers after love making and work, and the showers at the plant to wash off the radiation traces, scrubbing off one’s smell, sweat, and poison becomes a metaphor for wiping away one’s sins, too.  The film could also be a runner up for most tops removed in a single film.  In some films, doors are continually being opened and closed. Here, tops are continually being removed.  There are worse ways to spend 95 minutes, but a lot of better ways, too.

Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer