The Innocent Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Louis Garrel
Stars: Louis Garrel, Noemie Merlant, Roschdy Zem), Anouk Grinberg, Jean-Claude Pautot.
Thirtysomething Abel Lefranc (writer/director Louis Garrel) is a widowed marine biologist who also works as a tourist guide at the local aquarium. But he is depressed as he has never quite got over the loss of his wife in a car accident for which he feels responsible. He is a bit of a sad sack and naïve. He is upset to learn that his mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg, from The Night Of The 12th, etc), who teaches theatre in prison, impulsively plans to marry Michel (Roschdy Zem, from Chocolat, etc), a charismatic convict whom she met at one of her classes. This will be her third such marriage. Michel swears that he will go straight upon his release, but Abel is not so sure.
Michel and Sylvie open a florist shop, but Abel is still suspicious and convinces his best friend Clemence (Noemie Merlant, from 2019’s queer romance Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, etc) to help spy on him. They discover that Michel has concocted an elaborate scheme to steal a shipment of valuable caviar from a truck stop. Michel, who wants to keep Sylvie happy, is keeping his plan a secret from her though. The streetwise Michel learns of their surveillance and somehow manages to convince them to join him in the crime, acting as a diversion to distract the truck driver as he and Jean-Paul (Jean-Claude Pautot,) a fellow former inmate, carry out the heist. Over dinner, in a truckstop diner, they begin to explore their true feelings for each other.
The Innocent is a modern crime caper comedy and romantic comedy which gives a nod to those classic crime films of the French New Wave. This is the fourth feature film directed by French actor Louis Garrel and it has been loosely inspired by the experiences of his own mother Brigitte Sy, who spent twenty years working in prisons conducting theatre workshops and who did indeed marry an inmate. Garrel has co-written the script with Tanguy Viel (Beyond Suspicion) and regular collaborator Naila Guiguet (The Crusade, etc). Garrel uses the film to explore the importance of dreams and to illustrate how actors often use the tools of their trade to conceal their real emotions.
The film is a little clunky at the start and, although billed as a comedy, there are not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. The film fails to deliver a really satisfying payoff and some moments smack of contrivance. However, the pace does pick up and the film comes alive in the last forty minutes or so and Garrel delivers a few twists and surprises.
There is some good chemistry between Garrel and Merlant and their dialogue really crackles especially in the climactic scene set inside a roadside diner. Garrel is good as uptight, naive and obsessive as Abel, his screen alter ego, and he infuses the character with some personal touches although this time he is not as likeable as in previous films. Merlant won a Cesar award for her bright and breezy performance here and she is easily the best thing here. Cast against type here Zem brings a softer quality and charm to his performance as the surprisingly gentle and compassionate Michel.
The film has been nicely shot by Garrel’s regular cinematographer Julien Poupard, who makes the most of some locations in the city of Lyon, where the film is set, and gives the material an almost Noir like look and feel at times. The Innocent screened at the recent Alliance Francaise Film Festival and should find an appreciative audience with this commercial release.
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