When Gary Manda (Tahar Rahim, "A Prophet") lands a high paying but high risk job maintaining France's nuclear power plants, he catches the eye of Karole (Léa Seydoux, "Blue Is the Warmest Color"), who begins a steamy affair with him despite her engagement to his coworker Toni (Denis Ménochet, "Inglourious Basterds") in "Grand Central."
Cowriter (with Gaëlle Macé, "On the Ropes")/director Rebecca Zlotowski gives us a look at a job rarely, if ever, seen on screen before, the perilous work of those who risk radiation poisoning on a daily basis. By focusing on a man who's not only inept, but cavalier about his own exposure, "Grand Central" is full of tense moments. If only the romance she bogs down with symbolism were as enthralling. (The film's title is also perplexing, the train station at which Gary arrives for his new job its only mention.)
Gary and other new recruits are mentored by Gilles (Olivier Gourmet, "The Son"), an experienced veteran angered at having to train 'kids' but committed to their safety. The procedural aspects of the job are documented on Gary's first day - safety gear, a dosimeter (which he eventually begins to swap with one he keeps hidden on site), time limits, access methods and an alarmed radiation monitor which must be passed to exit the facility (those who get the dreaded red light must succumb to the scrubbings familiar from "Silkwood" before an assessment as to whether they can return to work).
At the local drinking hole (which prominently features a mechanical bull, meant to symbolize not only their machismo, but the nature of their work), Gary wonders what it feels like to get dosed - enter Karole, who plants a deep kiss on him for comparison's sake ('accelerated breathing, shaky hands, trembling legs...'), before planting herself in Toni's lap.
The two begin to meet in a wooded area. When an alarm begins to sound from the plant, Karole explains what the number of sirens indicates. Later she learns a good friend has gotten a bad dose. Toni becomes suspicious when he spies Karole coming out of the woods at a group picnic. When she learns she's pregnant, the company nurse notes that Toni's records indicate he's sterile.
The film's finale finds Karole making a surprise decision, only to relent as the plant's alarms sound once more. This may be dramatic, but it smacks of film school overreach. The film features an unusual, almost gothic orchestral score.
Robin gives "Grand Central" a B.
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