The Innocent – Film Review

Lovers are brought together and risk being torn apart by flowers and lies in this quirky French heist thriller, The Innocent.

Former actress Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) now teaches theatre classes to prisoners as a means of reform. Her star pupil Michel (Roschdy Zem) wants to put aside his past life and go straight. The two fall in love and on the eve of Michel’s parole, they are married in a small ceremony. Upon his release, the two begin to work together opening a florist’s shop.

Sylvie’s adult son, Abel (Louis Garrel) is highly dubious, however. Abel is a widower whose only close relationship is a platonic one with his wife’s best friend, Clémence (Noémie Merlant). This is not Sylvie’s first marriage to a criminal and Abel fears history is repeating itself. Although initially sceptical, he grows to trust Michel and the new couple seem ready to live happily ever after. That is, until Michel’s past comes knocking and threatens to destroy everything, sweeping both Abel and Clémence up in a world of crime, deception, and caviar!

Louis Garrel has had an interesting career. He first truly burst onto the scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s steamy love triangle drama ‘The Dreamers’. Since then, he has become one of the most respected French actors over the last 20 years. This marks his 4th film as actor and director, and continues his trademark of playing his alter ego persona, Abel. Here, Garrel tells a story inspired by his true-life actress mother, Bridget Sy and her experience in teaching theatre workshops in prison.

Billed as a comedy, what makes the humour of The Innocent work so well is just how dry the film is. Whereas many filmmakers would take this story and go completely farcical with it, Garrel, behind the camera, avoids this trend, playing it straight. Abel gets himself into awkward moments and many of these are funny to watch but there is still something very grounded about the The Innocent’s story. Garrel’s characters also have a lot more depth to them than one might not otherwise expect in a light-hearted film.

Each of the four primary leads have their own issues and hangups that they’re dragging around with them. Abel and Clémence have shared grief holding them back from moving on with their lives, while Sylvie’s unbalanced nature leads to a very real physical outburst at her son’s attempts to meddle in her life.

The subject of acting is a theme repeated throughout the film. From the opening monologue to The Innocent’s entire heist hinging on deception, acting is crucial. These four characters that are each lying to someone about something, make them fascinating. Particularly in Michel’s case, as Zem plays the part so well, we cannot help but like the guy even if we never fully trust him.

Viewing the story through Abel’s eyes, The Innocent plays out like a detective noir thriller. As Abel stalks Michel through the streets of Lyon, France, with use of split screens and stylish editing, Garrel reaches sheer Hitchcockian suspense. But this is contrasted quite hysterically by just how bad at it Abel is. Abel isn’t a spy! He works at an aquarium and his buffoonery here is believably inept.

On the subject of Lyon, this film features some amazingly beautiful locations. All of which adds immeasurably to the noir feel of the film. Shot expertly by director of photography, Julien Poupard, France has never looked so melancholy. 

While many films trip over themselves trying to achieve conflicting tones, The Innocent for its part succeeds. The plot is more a drama than it is a full-on comedy though. It is also more a character piece than it is a heist film. Although, The Innocent is a testament to Garrell’s ability as a filmmaker and makes for both thrilling yet also humorous entertainment.

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