To speak of the directing, acting, and cinematography is no small feat when writing about the experimental drama Train Station (2017). Boasting 40 writer/directors from 25 countries, the truly remarkable aspects of this film pertain to the unimaginable consolidation process. The heroes of this film are the writers and the editors. Not only does the film accomplish impossibly cohesive continuity, it does so as an exquisite representation of form following function.
With suspension of disbelief being a given going in, this film brings you a suggested multiple universes story line where not only every choice creates a new path, in a similar vein to the Jared Leto film Mr. Nobody (2009), it takes the conceit a step further: what if these plot-centric choices were made by a completely different person? Where Mr. Nobody (2009) ventures into the scientific realm of string theory, Train Station chugs down more of a philosophical track.
Train Station follows a character only known as “Person in Brown” as he is confronted with many decisions that take the film in many parallel storylines all set off by a mysterious train accident. The film starts with an ambivalent man who is confronted with a decision: wait for a train that may never come, or leave with the potential of the train arriving as soon as he’s gone. As we follow this character from sequence to sequence, he is replaced by new actors in new settings. Sometimes he’s an older man, sometimes he’s a young woman, and sometimes he’s a child. A number of the storylines involve Person in Brown’s significant other, Person in Red. We watch as Person in Brown transcends race, age, gender, and sexuality. Like life, there are paths that result in demise, some in despair, and some in enlightenment.
When I hear of a film that uses two to five minute increments from 40 unique writer/directors, my mind immediately goes to, “how’s this chaotic gimmick going to play out?” And usually it would be a needless mess. But Train Station gives a functional purpose to this form. In addition to the stimulating draw of a film about choices and who is making them, this film adds a meta importance to the plot structure: what if this same film was written and directed by a different director? To clarify, I see three levels to this film: first, what if every choice created a new story line. Second, what if these choices and story lines were made by different people of different age, gender, race, and religion. And third, what if a film about these choice-makers was made by different writers/directors of every age, gender, race, and religion.
No film is perfect and Train Station certainly is not an exception. The truth is, it is clear that some writers, some directors, some cinematographers, and some actors are more skilled than others. Furthermore, it’s apparent that the budgets were higher for some sequences, though that doesn’t always equate to more entertainment value. But it is rare for the scenes to be so poorly executed that they take you out of the film. One sequence, about 15 minutes into the film, involves a beautiful actress who vomits a few words of atrocious dialogue and continues to perform physical acting that’s reminiscent of an alien from outer space who is unsuccessfully trying to mimic how people act. The scene is equipped with unnatural dancing and features the Woman in Brown demonstrating a cartoon-like fist shake at a speeding car that knocks her suitcase out of her hands. Luckily, there aren’t many scenes like this and it is short enough that I didn’t walk out right then and there. When you have 40 directors making one film, you’re bound to have a dud or two. Overall, Train Station combines far more successful, intriguing, and well put-together scenes than the aforementioned trainwreck.
If you’re looking for a seamless, simple Hollywood style film with a predictable story arch, protagonist growth, antagonist defeat, and a happy ending, Train Station is certainly not for you. However, the cinefile who wants to feel engaged with a film and continues to ruminate on its’ inner complexities will be able to look past the faults and enjoy this film for what it is. For better or worse, Train Station is the definition of collaborative experimentation in cinema and will make you rethink the idea of producing a feature at an affordable budget.
Train Station opens in select theatres internationally on February 3rd 2017 and will be released on Amazon Instant Video(VOD) on February 4th 2017.
Zander Massey is a film buff, writer, and aspiring director. He is interested in philosophy and hiking, often synchronizing both. His area of expertise is critical analysis of art-house films and cinematic television. Zander has studied the intricacies of conflict resolution, having traveled to Northern Ireland and South Africa where he worked with political parties and NGOs. He believes that pride is for the weak and considers himself to be a dilettante.