Movie Review: Mon dieu, who among us is truly “The Innocent (L’Innocent?)”

Actor (“Little Women,” “Rifkin’s Festival”) and sometime director (“A Faithful Man”) Louis Garrel manages some seriously deft misdirections in his droll, dark comedy “L’Innocent” (“The Innocent”).

It’s a tale of love and grief, guilt and prison and ACTING, all folded into what could morph into a heist picture but is almost certainly destined to be a less serious “caper comedy.”

And before all is said and done and the last twist has registered, “L’Innocent” is guilty of unleashing a few serious LOLs.

The misdirections begin with the opening shot. A tough guy (Roschdy Zem) is hissing some hard truths at another goon.

“If you kill only one man, you will break even with death,” he says (in French with English subtitles). “Kill two men, you beat the odds!”

Damn. This dude’s serious. And it turns out he’s in prison, so sure, we buy it.

But the setting? It’s a prison acting class, which older actress Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) fusses over. That “actor,” Michel? Him she gushes over.

Her son Abel (Garrel) simply MUST meet him. Because she’s marrying Michel!

Abel’s cynical crack “It’s not a prison, it’s a DATING service!” tells us that this isn’t her first prison romance. Actresses, amIright?

Michel gets out of the joint mere days later, and now sullen Abel, a tour guide for kiddies at the Lyon aquarium, must contend with another of his flighty mom’s impulses. He’s already wearing resting “depressed” face. Now, he’s got her latest problem project to mistrust and not try at all to get along with.

Abel’s depression is anchored in grief. He lost his wife some time earlier. Her best friend Cleménce (Noémie Merlant) works with him as a diver at the aquarium. That’s our second bit of misdirection. The way she teases him, she could be his sister or girlfriend. No, she’s his confidante.

She’s the one who has to hear his suspicions about Michel. Because Abel starts shadowing the ex-con. And he’s bad at it. Michel seems amused by the clutzy Clouseau on his heels.

But just as we get used to the idea that Michel’s disarming charm might win the stepson over, Abel finds a pistol in Michel’s French hoodlum’s leather sportcoat. A-HAH! So he IS up to no good!

Or is he? Remember that “performance” in the opening scene? I mean, this “caper” business could go either way.

Garrel, co-writing the script with Tanguy Viel and Naïla Guiguet, conjures up a comically over-detailed heist that is destined to ensnare the mistrusting Abel, and even Cleménce.

Every scene seems to offer a fresh version of a “rehearsal,” an “improvisation” lesson, a cunning plan conceived by criminals who are, we know, never the masterminds the movies make them out to be.

We’re encouraged to be wary, maybe raise an eyebrow over what we see or think we’re seeing.

Garrel is a poker-faced stoic in all of the roles I’ve seen him in, so he’s the straight man to giddy Grinberg as his unsuspecting, mercurial mom and Merlant’s wild-child down for ANYthing friend and confessor.

As a director Garrel is so good at wrong-footing the viewer that the “L’Innocent” almost trips over itself. How do we categorize such a film? What are we to make of this?

Fair warning. Expect to be surprised and expect the surprises to tickle and delight. The dry, uncertain first two acts are but a set up for a fun, goofy and wholly plausible finale.

Because in the end, who is wholly “innocent” in this life? All we can say for sure is who is guilty of delivering giddy giggles in this tasty Gallic delight. And that would be “this entire cast.

Rating: unrated, violence, sexual situations, profanity

Cast: Louis Garrel, Noémie Merlant, Anouk Grinberg and Roschdy Zem

Credits: Directed by Louis Garrel, scripted by Louis Garrel, Tanguy Viel and Naïla Guiguet. A Janus release on Criterian Streaming.

Running time: 1:38


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

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