I watched this film yesterday evening since it came up on the banner announcing new releases and collections on Criterion Channel as one to watch - a deviation from my usual habit of seeking out classics from the past and following a recommendation from a friend - a French actress - who mentioned a French Moroccan actor that I should look out for during an online life-drawing session with her earlier in the afternoon - however, at the time his name escaped me due to a combination of concentrating on the task of drawing and translation across the internet.
It turns out that by sheer coincidence the film she was referring to was "L'Innocent" (Eng: "The Innocent") by a director I'd never heard of, Louis Garrel, and featuring said French Moroccan actor, Roschdy Zem, who is something of a rising star in contemporary French cinema - but what were my chances of viewing a film that would only get theatrical distribution in France ?
Thanks to Criterion Channel, I was able to watch the 2022 out of competition Cannes Film Festival entry film and was pleasantly surprised despite initial misgiving over the plot featuring a convicted criminal (Zem) who is determined to reform whilst in prison with the help of a drama teacher and single mother (Anouk Grinberg) and marries her before he is released on parole.
Without giving away too many spoilers this is essentially a heist genre film with a twist and also stars the director himself in a central role of "Abel" (Garrel) the reluctant stepson of "Michel" (Zem) and his mother, "Sylvie" (Grinberg) and who is the innocent of the title. Of equal importance is the role of "Clémence" (one to watch, Noémie Merlant), Abel's on-off girlfriend who works with him at a local aquarium - "on-off" because he is grieving the recent death of his wife and cannot commit to a new relationship.
Following the film is an interview with the actor director Louis Garrel (in English) and I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the film is filled with references to films that I discovered over lockdown and that have since become favourites, such as "Big Deal on Madonna Street" (Mario Monicelli) and "Il Sorpasso" (Dino Risi) and the work of post-war Italian directors and comedy actors like Alberto Sordi alongside more recent films like "Uncut Gems" by the Safdie Brothers. Garrel started his film career (he comes from a line of noted actor /directors) as an assistant to the script writer and director, Jean-Claude Carrière, who had earlier been Pierre Étaix main collaborator and Garrel acknowledges that he wanted to craft a film that had comedic elements within the tense plot.
"L'Innocent" is definitely worth checking out if you can find it - it's one of those films where, in the classic tradition of following characters of dubious intent through a plot you wonder why you are going on this ride, but you come out at the end knowing that the characters aren't all "bad" per se, rather like the experience of "Abel" in the film and brings to mind, for example, the contrasting characters of "Reinette" and "Mirabelle" in Rohmer's "Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle" with their opposing views of morality, though that film is not referred to specifically.
"I'Innocent", Dir: Louis Garrel, 2022