Train of Life (French: Train de vie; Romanian: Trenul vieţii) is a 1998 tragicomedy film by France, Belgium, Netherlands, Israel and Romania.
It tells the story of an eastern European Jewish village’s plan to escape the Holocaust.
In 1996, Roberto Benigni, writer-director of Train of Life’s perceived competitor Life Is Beautiful, had been sent the script to Train of Life and offered the role of village idiot Shlomo by writer-director Mihăileanu, but Benigni turned it down and afterwards went to write and direct Life Is Beautiful. Mihăileanu refuses to publicly discuss whether Benigni has plagiarised his film, instead preferring to say that he and Benigni have made “two very different films”.
Writer-director Mihăileanu said that reporters came to ask him about Shlomo’s ultimate fate which the film leaves open, whether he will perish during the war or if he will survive. Mihăileanu said, “At first, I didn’t know how to answer this one. But then I found the right answer: It’s up to you in the audience! If you’ll forget Shlomo, he’ll die. But if you’ll remember him, he’ll live forever.”
The film starts off with a man, named Schlomo (Lionel Abelanski), running crazily through a forest, with his voice playing in the background, saying that he has seen the horror of the Nazis in a nearby town, and he must tell the others. Once he gets into town, he informs the rabbi, and together they run through the town and once they have got enough people together, they hold a town meeting. At first, many of the men do not believe the horrors they are being told, and many criticize Schlomo, for he is the town lunatic, and who could possibly believe him? But the rabbi believes him, and then they try to tackle the problem of the coming terrors. Amidst the pondering and the arguing, Schlomo suggests that they build a train, so they can escape by deporting themselves. Some of their members pretend to be Nazis in order to ostensibly transport them to a concentration camp, when in reality, they are going to Palestine via Russia. Thus the Train of Life is born.
On their escape route through rural Eastern Europe, the train sees tensions between its inhabitants, close encounters with real Nazis as well as Communist partisans, and fraternisation with the Roma, until the community arrives just at the frontlines between German and Soviet fire.
Its ends with the voice-over of Schlomo himself, who tells the stories of his companions after the arrival of the train in the Soviet Union: Some went on to Palestine, some stayed in the Soviet Union, and some even made it to America. As he is telling this, a cut to a close-up of his face happens as he says, “That is the true story of my shtetl…”, but then the camera makes a quick zoom-out, revealing him grinning and wearing prisoner’s clothes behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp, and he ends with, “Ye nu, almost the true story!”
- Lionel Abelanski as Schlomo.
- Rufus as Mordechai.
- Clément Harari as the Rabbi.
- Michel Muller as Yossi.
- Agathe de la Fontaine as Esther.
- Johan Leysen as Schmecht.
- Bruno Abraham-Kremer as Yankele.
- Marie-José Nat as Sura.
- Gad Elmaleh as Manzatou.
Among other American and international awards, Train of Life won both the FIPRESCI Prize for Best First Feature and the Anicaflash Prize at the 55th Venice International Film Festival, the World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and the Best Foreign Language Film Award at the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards 1999.
- The footage of the train exterior and interior was actually second unit footage filmed for what was supposed to have been the Puppet Wars mini-trilogy, spun-off from the popular DTV horror series Puppet Master.
Production & Filming Details
- Radu Mihaileanu.
- Marc Baschet … producer.
- Ludi Boeken … producer.
- Frédérique Dumas-Zajdela … producer.
- Eric Dussart … producer.
- Michel Israël … associate producer (as Michel Israel).
- Cédomir Kolar … producer.
- Francis de Laveleye … associate producer.
- Radu Mihaileanu … producer.
- René Seegers … associate producer.
- Robert Swaab … associate producer.
- Radu Mihaileanu.
- Goran Bregovic.
- Giorgos Arvanitis.
- Laurent Dailland.
- Monique Rysselinck.
- Noé Productions.
- Raphaël Films.
- Hungry Eye Lowland Pictures B.V.
- Le Studio Canal+.
- Radio Télévision Luxembourg – Télévision Indépendante (RTL-TVI).
- Canal+ (with the participation of).
- Sofica Sofinergie 4 (with the participation of).
- Belfilms (with the participation of).
- Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC) (with the participation of) (as Centre National de la Cinématographie).
- Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (with the participation of) (as Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Communauté Française de Belgique).
- Eurimages (support).
- Canal Plus Ecriture (in collaboration with).
- PolyGram Audiovisuel (in collaboration with).
- Lady Film (1999) (Italy) (theatrical).
- AB International Distribution (1998) (France) (theatrical).
- Primer Plano Film Group (1999) (Argentina) (theatrical).
- Sherlock Media S.L. (2000) (Spain) (theatrical).
- Argentina Video Home (1999) (Argentina) (VHS).
- Arthaus (all media).
- Asociace Ceských Filmových Klubu (ACFK) (Czechia) (all media).
- Budapest Film (Hungary) (all media).
- Cult Filmes (Brazil) (VHS).
- Downtown Pictures (all media).
- Olive Films (2011) (Canada) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Olive Films (2011) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Paramount Classics (1999) (USA) (all media) (subtitled).
- Paramount Pictures (all media).
- Sunfilm Entertainment (Germany) (DVD).
- Tantra DMPC Ltd. (all media).
- Versátil Home Vídeo (Brazil) (DVD).
- Vértice 360 (2000) (Spain) (all media).
- Zima Entertainment (2002) (Mexico) (VHS).
- Zima Entertainment (Mexico) (all media).
- Release: 05 September 1998 (Venice Film Festival, Italy).
- Running Time: 103 minutes.
- Rating: 12.
- Country: France, Belgium, Netherlands, Israel, and Romania.
- Language: French and German.