Roman de Gare

Written and directed by Claude Lelouch. With Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant and Audrey Dana. Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. In French with subtitles. Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. 1 hour, 43 mins.

R (profanity, sexual content)

Playing at: Ritz Five.

Moviegoers of a certain generation think fondly of director Claude Lelouch, the luxury brand of French film. His is a cinema that came of age with James Bond, movies about jet-setters, race-car drivers, enigmatic beauties, the finest Burgundies, and espresso with three lumps of sugar.

Roman de Gare, his latest, translates as "railway novel," a pop fiction of the type one buys at the train station.

It's vintage Lelouch, a cinematic page-turner racing from chic winery to hardscrabble farm to sleek yacht on the Mediterranean. The framing device is a police investigation of an imperious and impossibly chic murder-mystery writer, Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant), a person of interest in two homicides. Is she a serial killer, or are her books an inspiration to one?

Lelouch, like Spielberg a virtuoso in propelling his films by staging sequences inside zooming vehicles, jumps among three parallel stories. The viewer does not know whether these disparate narratives will intersect - or collide head-on.

The structure of Lelouch's pedal-to-the-metal story commands attention and suspense. The three principals are enormously engaging, and Gérard de Battista's succulent cinematography creates the sense of actually being there.

- Carrie Rickey