Monday 13 November 2023

Mubi Monday: The Innocent (2022)

Co-written and directed by Louis Garrel, who also gives himself a plum lead role once again, The Innocent is an entertaining thriller that, on the one hand, plays out exactly as you might expect, yet also wrongfoots you slightly by the time the end credits roll, thanks in part to the title itself, and who it might be referring to.

Garrel plays Abel, the concerned son of Sylvia (Anouk Grinberg). He may be right to be concerned, as his mother has a habit of falling in love with, and marrying, people that she meets at her work. And she works in a prison. Her latest husband is Michel (Roschdy Zem), and Abel doesn’t trust him to stay on the straight and narrow. He wants to find out more about his plans, and enlists the help of Clémence (Noémie Merlant). It isn’t long until everyone starts to tangle themselves up in lies and deceit. Well . . . almost everyone.

Having only seen one other Garrel movie before this (the underwhelming Two Friends), and seeing the plot summary of this, I have to admit that I wasn’t really expecting too much from The Innocent. I assumed it would be a tired retread of very familiar ground, and wondered if Garrel might spoil his own direction by focusing too much on his own acting. Well, assumption makes an ass out of you and me, or something like that, and I am very happy to say that I was proven wrong here.

Paced perfectly (the runtime clocks in at just under 100 minutes), and with characters that it’s easy to warm to, despite them perhaps initially appearing too sharp and antagonistic, or too untrustworthy, the script allows for a nice and even mix of plot development and great character moments. Writers Tanguy Viel and Naïla Guiguet both work well with Garrel, with Guiguet having previously collaborated with the writer-director on his previous movie, The Crusade, and there’s a playfulness underpinning the interactions of the main characters that helps to avoid a cynicism and bleakness that would have left the whole thing feeling much more in line with so many other movies in this sub-genre.

When it comes to the performances, everyone is perfectly cast. Garrel continues his run of portraying characters named Abel (it must be some strange in-joke or personal preference, he has given himself that name in all of his features so far), Zem manages to feel both charming and potentially dangerous, Merlant helps to brighten up the film as she treats things quite lightly until they take a turn for the serious, and Grinberg is a sweetly optimistic romantic who just wants everyone to get along and be happy that she is happy.

Although it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, The Innocent manages to feel enjoyably unique without overdoing the quirkiness (even if the opening scenes may make you think it is heading in that direction). It’s consistently great, and the finale feels as inevitable as it is satisfying. I recommend it to anyone after some crime movie thrills without the need for a large sprinkling of misanthropy.


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