So, an Italian, an Iranian and an Englishman get on a train. While there, they make a movie. OK, no, that’s not much of a setup. And there isn’t really a punch line either. Instead: poised understatement, which proves more entertaining anyway. Tickets is less about the technical possibilities of an easy cinematic gimmick than about the human possibilities of a well-designed coincidence. It also reveals how the directors—Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami and Ken Loach—have become luminaries of world cinema and why they wanted to work together.
Each commands one-third of the train’s Rome-bound journey. Olmi’s piece, the opener, braids wistful reminiscence and romantic fantasy for a tone that anyone familiar with European train travel should find most appropriate. It concerns an elderly professor’s retroactive affection for the younger woman who assisted his travel arrangements and saw him off at the station. Next, Kiarostami supplies an often-insufferable old woman and her accommodating young attendant, who finds respite in a chance encounter with a younger girl from his hometown. Finally, Loach tangles a trio of Scottish soccer fans up with a family of Albanian refugees.
The train moves smoothly and linearly, but the film bobs between deft reversals of perspective and sympathy. Within only a few minutes and without many details, you can go from adoring characters to loathing them, or vice versa, and then on to what feels like really understanding them. Clearly, the directors share a belief in the dignity of kindness, but together they have no illusions. Their episodes are arranged in the correct order—not because each piece is better than the last, although arguably that is the case, but because each manages an oblique comment on what came before it; the humanism, like the realism, is cumulative.