Film Review: The Innocent


The long-suffering son of serial monogamist Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg), Abel (Louis Garrel) is immediately suspicious of her new (and third) husband, convict and ex-heist man Michel (Roschdy Zem). His fourth feature as director, Garrel’s The Innocent deftly mixes comic family melodrama with genre thrills in this pacy, emotive thriller with a killer cast.

Still struggling with the death of his wife, Garrel is arrested in grief; cutting a moody sullen figure, dividing his days between giving tours at the city aquarium and pouting over his mother’s latest beau. His only confidant, the vivacious Clémence (Noémie Merlant) was his wife’s best friend and in their grief they share a bond, though on the surface at least she seems to have moved on somewhat, sharing stories with him of her latest Tinder conquests.

Meanwhile, Sylvie is besotted with Michel, marrying him while he serves out the tail end of his sentence. On his release, Michel’s attempts to bond with Abel fall are met coldly. Sylvie and and Michel intend to open a flower shop together and it really does seem that his days of boosting crates of whisky from the backs of trucks are behind him. But Abel is not convinced, recruiting Clémence to help him cackhandedly spy on Michel at his job at the local furniture shop.

As a performer and director Garrel has proved himself adroit at a particular kind of comic pathos, and in The Innocent his skills in this department are put to especially good use, with Abel’s hamfisted attempts at espionage rarely escaping Abel’s notice. The absurdity of the humour is nuanced through the knowledge that his actions are a form of sublimated resentment towards his mother, as well as his own failure to reconcile his grief for his wife and the obvious feelings he has for Sylvie. Balancing this is a visual style drawing from heist cinema: lovely long shots with telescope irises, frames divided between extreme close ups of spying eyes, medium and wide shots of nefarious dealings, while night scenes abound with saturated colours and dissolves. Garrel’s camera is almost perpetually in fluid motion and accompanied by a killer, poppy soundtrack.

Minor spoiler warning ahead.

After Abel finds a gun in Michel’s jacket pocket, it comes as little surprise that he’s returned to his sticky-fingered ways. Soon after, both Abel and Clémence are drawn into a scheme that will secure Sylvie and Michel’s shop as well as netting Clémence and Abel a tidy €30,000 a piece. After delivering us melodrama and psychological paranoia, Garrel treats us to full act of heist thrills, with a meticulously planned robbery that delivers complications both mechanical and emotional.

Tying up the package are Garrel and Merlant’s dual performances, balancing each other with a friendship that fizzles with chemistry at the edges. An emotional confrontation comes at a profoundly inconvenient moment, neatly resolving narrative and emotive problems. Heist films are usually an assured good time, but it’s rare that they deliver emotional hits alongside their visceral thrills: The Innocent is one such rare treat.

Christopher Machell