The Innocent

Original title or aka: L'Innocent

Director: Louis Garrel
Starring: Roschdy Zem, Anouk Grinberg, Noemie Merlant and Louis Garrel
Distributor: AIDA
Runtime: 100 mins. Reviewed in Apr 2023
Reviewer: Peter W Sheehan
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Violence, coarse language and sexual references

This subtitled French film is a comedy drama about a 60-year-old woman who marries an ex-prisoner. Her son is unhappy with her decision, and is conflicted about his own choice of partner.

This film received 11 nominations at the 48th (2022) Cesar Awards, winning Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress for Noemie Merlant (Clemence in the film). The movie stars and is directed by Louis Garrel, from a screenplay written by himself. Garrel plays Abel Lefranc, a son who is very unhappy about what his mother is doing. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022.

As the story unfolds, Sylvie Lefranc (Grinberg), a 60-year-old woman, falls head over heels in love with convicted burglar Michel Ferrand (Zem), and marries him in prison. She is marrying for the third time in 10 years, and her son Abel is convinced that his mother is behaving recklessly. Michel is a criminal thug who says he wants to open a flower shop as soon as he gets out of prison. He and his new wife Sylvie dream of starting life again with a clean slate – which sounds too nice to be true. Not surprisingly, Abel is suspicious.

Abel is a marine biologist who is struggling with his own romantic attachment following the death of his beloved wife in a tragic car accident. He is convinced that Michel will never be able to put his criminal past behind him, and that his mother is making a terrible mistake. He starts to tail Michel, thinking his mother needs his protection. [Sylvie met Michel, while she was teaching drama theatre in prison, and Abel massively disapproves of any relationship between Michel and his mother. The scenes of the marriage in prison between Michel and Sylvie, in the presence of a disapproving Abel, are humorous, and touching.]

When Michel is released from prison, Abel attempts to derail his mother’s relationship in whatever way he can. Abel’s girlfriend is Clemence Genievre (Merlant), and she and Abel join forces in trying to prevent Sylvie from wrecking her life. But when Abel starts to interact with Michel, his limited life-horizon begins to broaden. He finds himself drawn into a robbery heist that Michel is planning, and he comes to the realisation, together with Clemence, that activity of such a kind is beginning to bring unexpected spice into his relatively dull life. Clemence, like Michel, is happy to take risks and urges Abel to do so too. The plot of the film plays out in a complicated way, that keeps the viewer entertainingly guessing all the way.

The scene is set in this movie for a fun time, and a second wedding ceremony occurs in prison after surprising developments. Most of the characters are flawed in some way. This not a French comedy that attempts to use situational humour in a strictly hilarious way, as French comedies are so very good at doing. It delivers its humour more thoughtfully, and has dramatic moments that tell a moral tale. Clemence and Abel finally come together in a twist to the plotline that concludes.

Family tensions, criminal activity, and conflicted romancing fuse together in a film which is  constructed and scripted wittily. The movie aims to please and does so by mixing suspense, humour, and humanity closely together. Rather than “hilariously bursting with invention”, as its advertising promises, it uses a mix of these elements to show that the dividing line between good and bad can be easily blurred.

This is a film that makes for a somewhat different French comedy. The film is more thoughtful than comical, and it scripts feel-good moments in a relatively distinctive way, told with humour. Garrel directs and acts impressively, and Merlant shines as Clemence.

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