REVIEW: The Innocent (2022, dir. Louis Garrel)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 99 mins

UK Distributor: Met Film Distribution

WHO’S IN THE INNOCENT?

Louis Garrel, Noémie Merlant, Roschdy Zem, Anouk Grinberg, Jean-Claude Pautot, Yanisse Kebbab

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Louis Garrel (director, writer), Tanguy Viel (writer), Anne-Dominique Toussaint (producer), Grégoire Hetzel (composer), Julien Poupard (cinematographer), Pierre Deschamps (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A man (Garrel) becomes suspicious of his new ex-con step-father (Zem)…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE INNOCENT?

It’s been a while since we’ve had ourselves a good old-fashioned screwball caper comedy, but very few people would have expected French actor Louis Garrel, who directs, co-writes, and co-stars in The Innocent, to be the one to bring it back.

It isn’t an entirely out-of-left-field move for the actor, best known for films like Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and most recently seen as King Louis XIII in The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan. This is Garrel’s fourth film as a filmmaker (or seventh, if you count the short films he also made), and in all his films to date he’s shown an eager flair for tapping into lightly comedic tones and scenarios that somehow compliment some of the darker or more sinister twists in the narrative.

What’s surprising about The Innocent, however, is how much Garrel really nails that outward screwball caper energy, the kind that previously benefited such films as Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc?, in ways that are not only funny within the film’s own context, but also compliment the otherwise realist world in which it takes place.

In the film, Garrel plays Abel, a tour guide at an aquarium in the French city of Lyon who learns that his mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg), a prison theatre teacher, has met, fallen in love with, and has swiftly married one of her inmate pupils Michel (Roschdy Zem). Understandably so, Abel is immediately distrustful of his new step-father, even though he and Sylvie seem to be perfectly happy together, and are planning to open up a flower shop together after he is discharged from prison. Determined to confirm his suspicions that Michel is not as honest as he says he is, and may in fact still be planning some sort of criminal activity, Abel enlists the help of his friend and co-worker Clémence (Noémie Merlant) to find out what Michel might be up to, and soon the two of them are drawn into a heist plot involving, of all things, a lot of valuable Iranian caviar.

There is a deft slickness to Garrel’s filmmaking here that boosts the storytelling (which he and co-writer Tanguy Viel based loosely on Garrel’s experiences with the ex-con that married his real-life mother) while also pulling off some of its own neat little stylistic tricks, to replicate the kind of screwball comedy from the 60s or 80s. Swift editing will have scenes take place via split-screen, to show the layered conversations while characters listen in and get sucked deeper into the conspiracy. Other sequences will be equipped with a fast and zippy pace that emphasise the lighter moments of slapstick, without neglecting the moments where things really do become quite tense and intimidating.

Garrel manages to balance the tone well, but more than that he also makes the scenes consistently engaging, because he and Viel have written a script where you are genuinely invested in the story and these characters, who share strong screwball chemistry that is often played for laughs but can, at times, be quite touching and heartfelt. There’s a fun sub-plot involving the undeniable attraction between Garrel and Noémie Merlant (the latter of whom is an absolute blast in the film, playing very much against type after sterner roles in Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Tár), which culminates during an already intense heist sequence where both actors play into their assigned screwball roles to a near fault, and get some strong laughs from their unexpected reactions. You certainly want these people to make it out okay, and even when it looks like they’re in more trouble than they can fathom, that’s when the film gets you all the more engaged in their overall outcome.

As a whole, The Innocent is a funny and endearing callback to the kind of screwball caper that is something of a rarity nowadays, perhaps because the appetite for wacky heist flicks with rat-a-tat dialogue and sparkling romantic chemistry might not seem as appealing in today’s more realist world. Garrel plays into this also, with a number of off-kilter moments that bring the heightened comedic nature back down to earth in ways that, one could argue, make the scene even funnier to watch. Characters will suddenly become incredibly threatening during a scene of light banter, while the odd bit of violence knowingly disrupts a stand-off revolving around some overpriced caviar.

It is a likeable effort by Garrel, who here brings his A-game to both his filmmaking and performing skills for a film that rarely fails to entertain, and whether or not you enjoy the kind of screwball farce that he is paying strong homage to here, it’s safe to assume that you won’t be bored by what the actor/director has in store for you.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Innocent is a fun homage to the screwball caper flicks of the 60s and 80s, with director and actor Louis Garrel finding a consistent tonal balance with some slick stylish editing and hilarious supporting turns, particularly from an against-type Noémie Merlant, to always entertain the viewer.

The Innocent is now showing in cinemas nationwide

Click here to find showtimes near you!

Stay updated with all the latest reviews and previews by signing up for our free newsletter, delivered to your e-mail inbox every week!

Search from over ten years of movies here:

Other recent reviews:

Abigail (2024, dirs. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett)

A group of kidnappers realise that young Abigail is no ordinary child…

Rebel Moon – Part 2: The Scargiver (2024, dir. Zack Snyder)

A group of intergalactic rebels make their stand against a totalitarian regime…

Sometimes I Think About Dying (2024, dir. Rachel Lambert)

An introverted office worker befriends a new work colleague…

The Book of Clarence (2024, dir. Jeymes Samuel)

In 33 AD Jerusalem, Clarence takes advantage of the celebrity culture surrounding a certain prophet…

Back to Black (2024, dir. Sam Taylor-Johnson)

Rising singer Amy Winehouse falls in love with Blake Fielder-Civil…

Bleeding Love (2024, dir. Emma Westenberg)

A father and his addict daughter go on a road trip together…

Civil War (2024, dir. Alex Garland)

A group of journalists travel across America as it descends into a modern civil war…

The Teachers’ Lounge (2023, dir. İlker Çatak)

A teacher conducts her own investigation into a series of thefts at her school…

Seize Them! (2024, dir. Curtis Vowell)

In Medieval England, an arrogant Queen is overthrown in a rebellion…

The Trouble with Jessica (2024, dir. Matt Winn)

A dinner party descends into chaos after the arrival of an unexpected guest…