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If you need someone to direct and star in a movie about a forlornly handsome Frenchman caught between two gorgeous femme fatales, better call Louis Garrel.
For his second feature following the likeable Two Friends (2015), the actor turned filmmaker delivers a very New Wave-ish tale of love, sex, death, adultery and picturesque Paris streets, in a movie that seems to pay homage to mid-career Francois Truffaut (especially Stolen Kisses). Short and sweet if ultimately rather trite — although a screenplay contribution from the legendary Jean-Claude Carriere adds some gravitas — this is the kind of French flick that art-house viewers could lap up with their cafe au lait.
Garrel plays Abel, a dark and dashing journalist who looks like he just crawled out of bed, presumably leaving a beautiful woman in his wake. During the film’s well-played and deadpan opening, he’s blindsided by his gorgeous girlfriend of three years, Marianne (model turned actress Laetitia Casta, currently Garrel’s wife), who tells him she’s pregnant, but that the father happens to be their best friend, Paul. With little to say for himself, Abel stumbles down into the street and out of her life.
Cut to nearly a decade later. Paul (who we never actually see onscreen) has died in his sleep, and, faster than you can say “voulez-vous coucher avec moi?”, Abel is back living with Marianne and her problematic son, Joseph (the effective Joseph Engel). Before Abel can even unpack his bags, Joseph warns him that Marianne poisoned Paul and that her doctor/lover covered up the evidence. The scene is pure Carriere and reminiscent of his haunting script for Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, although Garrel adds some levity to the action, including a hilarious scene where Abel decides to confront the doctor in his office.
Another ingredient is tossed into the pot au feu when Paul’s younger sister, Eve (Lily-Rose Depp, in perhaps her best role yet), pops back into the picture and professes her love for Abel. Then the shenanigans really begin, with Abel obliged to choose between the possibly murderous if loving Marianne, and the obsessed if unstable Eve, schlepping his bags from one apartment to the next, and his body from one bed to the other.
You can’t get more French than this, although Garrel avoids falling into pure caricature with his cutting sense of humor, offering a few laugh-out-loud moments and one or two surreal twists that were probably courtesy of Carriere, who penned Luis Bunuel classics like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Belle de Jour. The film, which clocks in at only 75 minutes, is carried by fine performances from all three leads, with both Casta and Rose-Depp convincingly playing less glamorous versions of themselves.
What it all adds up to is another matter, and with its multiple voiceovers, flashbacks and Antoine Duhamel-esque soundtrack, the film feels so steeped in New Wave lore that it’s hard to believe the story is set in the present. Garrel’s vision of Paris often plays out like pure nostalgia, as if cinematographer Irina Lubtchansky — whose father, William, shot films for Garrel’s father, Philippe — was capturing the city in a late-60s time warp, with pairs of ravishing lovers roaming the streets.
Still, A Faithful Man shows that Garrel has promise as a filmmaker, with a knack for directing actors and a welcome sense of Gallic wit. And as a performer himself, he remains a likeable and sometimes intense screen presence. If he could only escape the shadow of his predecessors and the streets of the Latin Quarter, perhaps he could say something that finally feels real.
Production company: Why Not Productions
Cast: Louis Garrel, Lily-Rose Depp, Laetitia Casta, Joseph Engel
Director: Louis Garrel
Screenwriters: Louis Garrel, Jean-Claude Carriere
Producers: Pascal Caucheteux, Gregoire Sorlat
Director of photography: Irina Lubtchansky
Production designer: Jean Rabasse
Costume designer: Barbara Loison
Editor: Joelle Hache
Sales: Wild Bunch
Venues: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
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