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The Innocent  

No one studies genre cinema like the French do. They were singing the praises of Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder even before the American establishment were. A genre film can be a comforting place for an audience. It just can’t be mundane.  

And that’s what I think separates the French from the Americans. In Hollywood, the machine is driven by producers trying to repeat the same formulas and styles without understanding what makes each story special. Everywhere else, the driver’s seat is taken by the auteur whose experience in storytelling is elevated by the fact that they want to stand out and break at least one barrier. If it’s good, the audience will come.  

Case in point: The Innocent, directed by Louis Garrel. A reasonably simple crime dramedy that is entertaining enough to make a trip to the cinema worth it, and avoids the usual genre clichés just by aiming to stay true to its characters and not to a producer’s algorithm.  

The film is about Abel (Garrel), a young widower who is suspicious of his mother’s (Anouk Grinberg) new husband, the ex-convict Michel (Roschdy Zem). The mother, Sylvie, is a passionate and eccentric actor who fully offers herself to every relationship. Abel protects her, but doesn’t hide how quickly she gets under his skin. The two fight, bump heads, and shout constantly, but would also give their lives to protect one another. Every time my mother visits from the old continent, I have to explain to people that we’re not angry when we talk. The mother-son dynamic in Western Europe can be hard for outsiders to process. 

Abel’s problem is that he fears Michel will return to a life of crime and hurt Sylvie in the process, so he starts clumsily following Michel with the help of his friend Clémence (Noémie Merlant). What is interesting is how none of this is played for a punchline at the end of the scene. The comedy emerges naturally from the awkwardness of the situation – for example, in a scene where Abel and Clémence follow Michel to a restaurant and he spots them quickly and decides to play along with their shtick. It’s great cinema that doesn’t constantly remind you that it’s trying to be a comedy, like an early Wes Anderson movie without the careful framing. 

The Innocent’s strengths make the film a fun and competent caper with a heart-warming moral core. If anything, it shows Garrel as a talented maker of films that charm crowd-pleasers. I doubt there’s anything in him that could have elevated this film to classic status, but for what it is, it’s a job well done. The problem is that when you reach this level in filmmaking, it makes one think about what’s missing to make this a genuine masterpiece. Honestly, I think The Innocent needs a sharper edge to its presentation, a complexity to its layers, and something brutal to floor the audience. Park Chan Wook did exactly that with last year’s Decision to Leave. Reminds me of Neil Young, who purposely chooses takes of his songs where he misses a beat, or plays the wrong chord. It’s what adds that little unexpected spiciness to his songs. The Innocent plays all the right notes at the right time. 

Verdict: 3 out of 5 
For everyone who loves a good adult comedy caper that doesn’t waste time with infantile shenanigans. That three is very high. Almost a four.