Who Wants to Be Loved? -- Film Review

Deft, down-to-earth portrayal of a man's journey to faith.

In her debut feature, Anne Giafferi based the story on her husband Thierry Bizot's autobiographical novel "Catholic Anonymous."

PARIS — Who Wants to be Loved? (Qui a envie d'être aimé?), Anne Giafferi's debut feature, is that rare article, a movie about religion that neither mocks nor proselytizes but simply tells the story of one man's route to a belief in God without taking sides. Based on her husband Thierry Bizot's autobiographical novel Catholic Anonymous (a title that hints at secrecy and addiction), the movie is a serious-minded portrayal of spiritual self-discovery with elements of social comedy. Though it lacks mass appeal, the movie is well-acted, displays high production values and merits a run on the art-house and festival circuits. 

Though not themselves believers, Antoine (Eric Caravaca), a successful lawyer, and his wife Claire (Arly Jover) have opted to send their son Arthur (Quentin Grosset) to a Catholic school. Out of curiosity and politeness, Antoine accepts an invitation to attend catechism classes and is gradually drawn in. He's reluctant to admit to Claire that he's acquired an interest in religion. What develops is a kind of love triangle, with Jesus in the role of the disruptive third party.

Who wants to be loved? is the question with which the priest who conducts the catechism classes opens the first session. Antoine does, that's for sure. His aging father (Jean-Luc Bideau) withholds affection and clearly prefers Antoine's wastrel, spendthrift brother Alain (Benjamin Biolay). His relations with Arthur are strained (father-son relations are a key theme), and things are little better with Claire, particularly once she starts suspecting him of seeing someone else.

Giafferi and Bizot are the creators and writers of a successful TV comedy series noted for understated humor based on acute observation of human foibles and the nuances of social interplay. Giafferi, who scripted as well as directed, has a fine ear for the minor absurdities of language, which is put to good use here.

The movie makes a creative virtue of the tension between the source material and its treatment — between the novelist-believer and the director-sceptic. Religious practice is not mocked but rather gently ribbed, as in the guitar-backed prayer readings or the (implied) comparison of the catechism discussions to group therapy. Giafferi resists the temptation to solemnity or uplift as seen in last year's award-winning Of Gods and Menand represents God in a statue of Christ uncrucified, seated, simple, human.

It's possible to quibble at some aspects of the story, notably a tacked-on resolution, but overall the movie is a deft handling of a sensitive and unfashionable subject.

Release date in France: Feb. 9
Production companies: Elephant Story, France 3 Cinema, Parabole Films, Les 3 Biz, Belvision
Cast: Eric Caravaca, Arly Jover, Jean-Luc Bideau, Valerie Bonneton, Benjamin Biolay, Quentin Grosset, Philippe Duquenne
Director/screenwriter: Anne Giafferi
Based on the book by Thierry Bizot
Producers: Guillaume Renouil, Thierry Bizot, Emmanuel Chain
Photography: Jean-Francois Hensjens
Editor: Christophe Pinel
Music: Jean-Michel Bernard
Production design: Sylvie Olive
No rating, 89 minutes