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Double Exposure

Grand Central (2013)

57th BFI London Film Festival

Love is often portrayed as a dangerous game; and yet by setting "Grand Central" against the unconventional backdrop of a nuclear power plant, Rebecca Zlotowski veils her picture in a darker and infinitely more stifling fog of threat. The seeming sterility of the plant lies in stark contrast to the beauty of the burgeoning and forbidden relationship that develops between Gary (Tahar Rahim), a carefree plant rookie desperate to kick out on his own, and confident Karole (an alluring Léa Seydoux), erstwhile fiancée of Gary’s colleague Toni (Denis Ménochet).

Undeterred by the dangers that lurk within the plant — namely the dreaded "dose" of radiation that the workers must encounter each day — Gary betrays a recklessness that also afflicts his personal life. Ignoring a portentous warning sign reading "Don’t give in to curiosity," he takes risks within and without the plant that have potentially life-changing ramifications on himself and those around him.

By pursuing Karole, Gary faces a hostility entirely of his own creation, poisoning the sanctity of what should be a safe environment away from white walls and radiation suits of the day job. Despite the clear chemistry between Gary and Karole, credit to which must lie with the terrific Mr. Rahim and, particularly, Ms. Seydoux, theirs is a tainted love suffused with danger and is one that leads Gary to take terrible risks to ensure their clandestine relationship can continue at whatever the cost.

Throughout, Ms. Zlotowski draws neat visual contrasts between the ponderous and treacherous hardships that Gary endures within the confines of the plant, and Gary and Karole’s illicit trysts which take place in lush, unblemished riverside idylls. Karole is his escape and Gary indeed is hers, although Toni is revealed to be neither as brutal nor overbearing as he might appear, compounding the sense that love’s toxic grip can take anyone in its stifling hold.

"Grand Central" is an original and well-realized reflection on the destructive nature of love. At one point, love is described as the "sickness of youngsters"; and through Gary and Karole’s relationship, Ms. Zlotowski reveals it to be a "dose" that has the potential to cause untold damage. Love is a cruel, unforgiving and yet enticing mistress; and while it doesn’t blind Gary to the consequences of his actions, it does ultimately cost him everything.


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