Starring: Tahar Rahim, Lea Seydoux, Olivier Gourmet
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Now that nuclear power plants are set to become a big part of our lives again in the UK, British viewers might well be interested in this semi-documentary style drama from France which offers a worm’s eye view of what goes on inside them. The central character is Gary (Tahar Rahim), one of a group of young, unskilled itinerant workers who jump at the chance to earn danger money doing cleaning and maintenance jobs in toxic conditions. Director Rebecca Zlotowski has clearly done her research, and the film is very convincing on the textures of the workers’ lives and the routines at the plant. There’s an almost Dickensian contrast between their high tech working environment and the very basic life they lead on a nearby camp site, without mod cons but with an ad hoc community and the countryside to wander around in. It’s a tight-knit group – Gilles and Toni (Olivier Gourmet and Denis Menochet), two powerfully avuncular older guys, take care of the young hotheads such as Gary and everyone looks out for each other.
But volatility being a part of the human condition, Gary raises the temperature by making a bit of electricity of his own with Karole (Lea Seydoux), Toni’s girlfriend. Combining a simple, hot-blooded story of passion with a gritty, social realist picture of the lives of have-nots, Grand Central seems to look back all the way to the sorts of films Jean Gabin made in the 1930s and even to stories such as Carmen, and there’s a whiff of Days of Heaven, too, in its lyrical evocation of the outdoors. And it’s not without glamour, thanks to the casting – Tahar Rahim is a handsome, likeable lead (he looks like a cross between Richard Gere and Gino D’Acampo), while with her cropped hair and painted-on hotpants and tanktop, Lea Seydoux seems at first glance more Baywatch than Doomwatch. The two central characters aren’t endowed with a great deal of depth (Gilles and Toni are actually more interesting), but the milieu is well-observed, the mood is powerfully sultry, and the locations on the Rhone look very attractive on this crisp DVD transfer.