Louis Garrel, “L’Innocent” (2022)
A very clever comedy combining romance and a heist plot, “L’Innocent” works thanks to the excellent performances of its four lead actors playing characters who will go to any length to please or protect their loved ones. Abel (Louis Garrel), mourning the death of his wife in a traffic accident that he was also involved in, is upset about his mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) marrying prisoner Michel (Roschdy Zem) at the prison where she conducts drama workships. After all, this marriage is Sylvie’s third marriage to a prisoner or ex-con in ten years. After the wedding, Michel is released from prison and he and the besotted Sylvie set about buying a vacant shop to turn it into a florist shop. Of course, banks won’t lend to ex-prisoners so Michel obtains the down payment on the shop from friends. Abel suspects something fishy about Michel so with the help of his wife’s old friend Clémence (Noémie Merlant), who also works at the aquarium where Abel is a tour guide, Abel snoops on Michel and his interactions with his mates Hisham and Jean-Paul … and discovers that Michel indeed is planning a heist with his friends on a refrigeration truck carrying a load of precious Iranian caviar.
So, having discovered what Michel is up to, do Abel and Clémence report their suspicions to the police? Erm, it seems that (much to Abel’s surprise and disgust), Clémence is enthralled by the sheer riskiness of the venture. Michel and his pals quickly discover that Abel and Clémence are trailing them … but do the robbers threaten and blackmail the couple? Erm, this being a screwball French comedy, the crooks actually invite Abel and Clémence to participate by giving them the task of distracting the refrigeration truck driver having his dinner at his local diner long enough for Michel and his partner to transfer all the boxes of caviar from the refrigeration truck to their own vehicle. The oddball team members rehearse what they will do to sway the driver’s attention. Eventually they carry out their plan and execute the heist … but someone betrays Michel and the truck driver, quickly realising he has been set up, phone the police.
The four characters Abel, Clémence, Michel and Sylvie act out of love for their loved ones but the choices they make turn out to be wrong ones. Keen to start afresh and to make Sylvie happy, Michel makes a risky choice to accept a loan from Jean-Paul … but then he must repay the loan quickly and is pressured into participating in one last robbery – a robbery that may cost him his marriage and his freedom. Sylvie’s impulsive behaviour alienates her son who then snoops on Michel and draws Clémence into his stalking.
The film runs at a brisk pace and the plot bounds along with all four characters being well written and portrayed so that audiences understand their motivations and feelings for their loved ones. Michel really does care for Sylvie and her happiness, and one late scene in the film demonstrates that he and Abel could have been good friends if Abel hadn’t been so obsessed with protecting his mother from harm. At the same time Abel has had past issues arising from his wife’s death: he is afraid of forming new attachments and fills the void in his life by over-protecting his mother who admittedly has not been too judicious in her choice of husbands. Clémence is drawn to Abel through his late wife and during the course of the heist and the acting-out they must do to draw the refrigeration truck driver’s attention away from the window so he can see his truck, the two discover that they really do have feelings for each other.
After the messes the characters have made for themselves, the film ends rather too neatly and symmetrically with its beginnings – Sylvie and Michel’s prison wedding near the start of the film is echoed in another prison wedding at the film’s conclusion – but there is the impression that all four characters have somehow been released from an old cycle of repeating behaviours and patterns, and they can move forward in new directions. Abel has learned to release his grief and obsessive behaviour that has trapped him for some time, thanks to Clémence’s high-spirited approach to living, and Sylvie may have learned something as well. The film ends happily even if the ending seems rather contrived – but then the whole plot is rather contrived after all.