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Celebrated nouveau roman writer Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote and directed this Pirandellian thriller about a drug smuggler (Jean-Louis Trintignant) on an Antwerp-bound train whose looks, demeanour and motives shift from one encounter to the next.
"A key text of the postwar European avant-garde" (Senses of Cinema), Trans-Europ-Express "enjoyed a long career as an erotic picture. . . . People reacted well to the nude girls in chains," claimed Robbe-Grillet in a self-deprecating interview. As its title suggests, the film takes place mostly on a transcontinental train, a traditional setting for a most unconventional thriller. A Pirandellian narrative game, with many twists and feints, is enacted as a writer-director (played by Robbe-Grillet) and his producer and secretary spin a story set on the train from Paris to Antwerp that involves Elias, a cocaine smuggler (a dapper Jean-Louis Trintingant). As the story of the drug runner gets revised, deconstructed, and amended by the trio of creators, Elias becomes a morph, changing his looks and demeanour at will. Full of in-jokes and witty skewerings of nouvelle vague culture and shot in crisp, meticulous black and white by Willy Kurant, Trans-Europ-Express has been acclaimed as Robbe-Grillet's "most successful and accessible experimental work . . . The high-water mark defining the end of a decade-long romance between experimental fiction and post-Classical French Cinema is surely Alain Robbe-Grillet's Trans-Europ-Express" (Senses of Cinema); "immensely funny, erotic and evil" (David Meeker).