Features Live Action Movies

The Innocent

Director – Louis Garrel – 2022 – France – Cert. 15 – 99m


A trusting woman marries a soon-to-be-released convict in prison only for her suspicious son to start following him after the man’s release and soon find himself out of his depth – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 25th

Warning: plot spoilers.

Sylvie LeFranc (Anouk Grinberg) has fallen big time for Michel Ferrand (Roschdy Zem) and is about to marry him. Her son Abel (Louis Garrel) is less than happy about this, since Michel is the latest convict serving a prison sentence for whom his mother has fallen. He grudgingly attends their prison wedding. Shortly after, Michel is released and the couple embark on their new life together, with Michel promising to go straight and Sylvie, who likes to think the best of people, taking him at his word. She has always dreamed of opening a flower shop, and he gives her the funds to make it happen. They hire premises and start doing it up, getting Abel to help.

Although he can see that the romance is genuine – at least on his mother’s side – Abel understandably doesn’t trust his mum’s judgement and doesn’t trust Michel at all. At the aquarium where he is employed, Abel confides in work colleague and close friend Clémence Genièvre (Noémie Merlant from Jumbo, Zoé Wittock, 2020) and ropes her in to helping him follow Michel for surveillance purposes.

When Michel is forced to admit to Abel that to get the seed money for Sylvie’s business he’s agreed to do one last job for shady character and Michel’s business associate Jean-Paul (Jean-Claude Pautot), he tries to rope Abel in for a not inconsiderable sum of money. When Abel tells Clémence, her reaction is far from the moral condemnation he expects – she likes the sound of the money and tells him to go for it.

Indeed, Clémence gets involved too, finding herself somewhat bizarrely in what appears to be an acting workshop in a disused warehouse where she and Abel rehearse an acrimonious scenario between a couple at a restaurant table. It turns out that the heist is of a truck which will stop at a motorway service station where Michel is to unload a shipment of caviar into his own van while the truck driver, unaware of the robbery plan, is carrying out his regular routine of eating a meal at the service station restaurant.

The staging of the arguing couple at the next table is meant to ensure the truck driver doesn’t look out of the window and check his truck at the wrong moment and get caught up in the situation, so that the robbery can proceed as planned without his knowledge. In the best tradition of the heist movie, however, it doesn’t quite work out like that…

If this film falls neatly into any genre, it’s that of the genre-bender, the film that moves effortlessly between different film genres. Opening somewhere between a romantic drama and a prison movie, it swiftly becomes a family drama and briefly a car chase, then a film about achieving dreams and running your own business, then riffs on Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) for a while with the protagonist following someone for days on end, complete with spying on them in a flower shop, before ultimately turning into a cross between a caper movie and a heist movie.

Such films have often been dismissed as not knowing exactly what they want to be, being unsure of their identity, yet Garrel’s film seems to delight in moving from one genre to the next, yet Garrel’s film – which in territories beyond its native France fits neatly into the ‘foreign arthouse subtitled’ categor(ies), even though it might play as a mainstream movie with familiar stars at home – also seems to delight in its genre-hopping, as though that’s exactly what actor turned director-actor Garrel wants to do.

Even as its outward trappings shift, however, the characters remain consistent.

Abel’s early encounter of sorts with Michel sets the tone of the piece: Abel is in his mother’s car as she is chasing a prison van transporting her lover (as she describes him) from one location to another. Sylvie is at once possessed of a heart of gold and fearlessly bonkers. Abel, although he loves her dearly as his mother, is also concerned for how everything will turn out. At that stage it’s not clear, but as it later plays out, Michel is a hardened career criminal who wants his beloved to believe he has turned his back on all that when he hasn’t, a fact that will estrange her from him when she later finds out.

The characters are reasonably believable and therefore satisfying to watch, while the genre-hopping will in al probability delight some and alienate others. If you don’t take it too seriously, there’s something both attractive and whimsical about the whole which makes it worth a watch, even if it’s no masterpiece.

The Innocent is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, August 25th.


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