by George Wolf
With The Innocent (L’innocent), director/co-writer/co-star Louis Garrel takes Shakespeare’s declaration that “all the world’s a stage” to some clever and literal ends.
Or, he mines madcap laughs from a man trying to catch his mother’s new husband in a lie.
Or, he builds tension from a “sure thing” heist sure to go wrong.
Or maybe he’s just trying to comment on the needless games we sometimes play for love.
Really, the film’s biggest hurdle is keeping the whiplash at bay as it juggles all of these tones for just over 90 minutes. And for the most part its balancing act is successful, crafting a breezy and amusing take at all the untrue stories we tell.
Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) teaches drama to prison inmates (as Garrel’s own mother did for many years), and falls in love with the incarcerated Michel (Roschdy Zem). They marry, which doesn’t thrill Sylvie’s adult son Abel (Garrel, who you may remember as Theo from The Dreamers), and once Michel is released, Abel sets out to prove to his mother that Michel is still up to no good.
Meanwhile, Abel and Clémence (Noémie Merlant, so good in Tár and Portrait of a Lady on Fire) stand delicately on the last rung of the friend zone, each seemingly waiting for the other to jump off.
Garrel blurs the line between acting and lying (to others and ourselves) with a slyly comical hand, amid pauses to remind us how crucial sincerity is to successful relationships.
Okay, that’s enough, now back to this zany caviar robbery!
American audiences may find The Innocent to be more of an acquired taste than those in Garrel’s native France, but anyone who dives in shouldn’t bail too quickly. Give this splendid cast time to pull all the threads together, and they’ll build a stage big enough for comedy, drama, romance and heart.