Two things – when I once again forget how good French films generally are, please remind me. There is something about French films. Whether it be of the romantic comedy, thriller or just plain dramatic genre, the French add a soupçon of je ne sais quoi. There is a tone and timbre of French films that no other country can replicate. For decades upon decades, the country has produced high quality films for cinephiles to enjoy.
The second thing is that Noémie Merlant is one of the best French actresses working today. That is saying a lot as the country has Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Lea Seydoux, Eva Green, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Julie Delphy working today. Ever since I first saw her at TIFF in Portrait of a Lady on Fire in 2019, she has proven her talent time and time again. She has done drama and here proves she can do comedy as well. Do not sleep on this actress! See her films! In the past couple of years, besides Portrait of a Lady on Fire, she has starred in A Good Man, Baby Ruth and Paris, 13th District. Plus she has two anticipated films coming up in Tar with Cate Blanchette and Lee with Kate Winslet, Cotillard, Alexander Skarsgard, and Andy Samberg.
While this is not a great one, Louis Garrel’s (The Crusade, A Faithful Man) film, which he directed, wrote and stars, is a wildly diverting one. Of the style and calibre that will keep your mind on it and off any problems in your life. Meaning it will worm its way into your brain and heart. The Innocent is a comedy with some romance and heist film mixed in. As for the comedy, it is zany and at times over the top, a style the French excel at.
While in the car with his mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg – La Fille du Magicien, Thank You, Life) tells Abel (Louis Garrel – Little Women – 2019, The Dreamers) that she is in love and is going to marry. Instead of being happy, Abel is suspicious as this will be her third marriage in a decade. The worry doubles when she admits that she met her fiance, Michel (Roschdy Zem – The Cold Light of Day, Omar M’a Tuer), in the prison where she gives acting classes.
Despite his mother being in love and Michel’s attempts to win him over, Abel continues to suspect the man fresh out of prison. Obsessed, Abel, who is still mourning the death of his young wife, has his best friend, the flaky and hopeless romantic, Clémence (Noémie Merlant), help him follow Michel around to try and find out if he is going back to his life of crime as Abel suspects.
The film is average but is elevated because of the performances by the cast members. The stand out is Merlant. She has a role which requires her to perform a tightrope act. A woman who looks for love in a different Tinder date each night and can only be classified as a free spirit. The role of Clémence asks her to do things which in the hands of a lesser actress would be done in a caricature-type way. Instead, Merlant brings to life a young woman of multiple layers. One who is funny, brave and desperate for love and to be loved. All this is done with a rather natural feel to it. The other characters are rather one-dimensional with Abel being a tightly wound paranoid, Sylvie being ridiculous and Michel being a man of secrets.
The film, which made its debut at Cannes this year, is a slice of life. It is a human story. People looking for love. Being brave in several ways including making themselves vulnerable to another. We are, at the same time entertained and asked to think about the larger questions of life like love, what we would risk for the one we love, honesty, and family. Love and loss go hand in hand. If you are brave enough to love then you will experience loss and its pain. Some remain lost after that loss (Abel) while others try to rebuild their lives (Sylvie), open to new love. How all this rather serious stuff is told is the story’s strength. A non-traditional path is taken. One filled with plenty of humour and a heist involving Iranian caviar.
Part funny and part emotion-filled, The Innocents was a solid beginning to my 2022 Cinemania experience.