Alice O’Hare reviews A Faithful Man, showing in our cinema until Thursday 10 October.
In a bold yet simple opening, A Faithful Man (the sophomore effort from director Louis Garrel) plunges us straight into the turmoil of highly likeable Abel (played by Garrel himself). Faced with the shock news that his long-term girlfriend Marianne (Laetitita Casta) wants to put a stop to their relationship after becoming pregnant with his good friend Paul, Abel becomes nothing short of hopeless. A decade later, he reunites with his former flame after the sudden death of Paul, intending of course to pick up where the couple left things all those years ago and win Marianne back. What follows is a riotous and bold chain of events, complicated by suggestions that Paul’s tragic death is not what it seems and the fact that Paul’s sister Eve (Lily-Rose Depp) has been pining after Abel since she was a child and will stop at nothing to claim him as her prize.
As a director, Garrel’s style oozes confidence, not afraid to break the fourth wall and dwell on intense moments for longer than would often be comfortable. Depp’s alluring performance makes us sympathetic to what can only be described as her stalker behaviour. Meanwhile, Casta channels an impressive blend of coldness and humanity as the ever-desirable Marianne; despite her obvious flaws and infidelity, we cannot help but understand why Abel is so in awe of this woman. The surprise standout, however, is Joseph Engel as Marianne’s son, Joseph. His brutal honesty and seeming wisdom beyond his mere nine years is perfected by Engel, and it almost becomes a shame that the murder plot suggested by the character amounts to very little as grief takes hold.
Quite remarkably, the film clocks in at just 75 minutes, the feeling created echoing the clear influence of the French New Wave. Events run along with a sense of spontaneity, the narrative often following a single day or suddenly jumping weeks at a time. Despite having what could be deemed a relatively mundane romance plot at its core, A Faithful Man never becomes mundane; rather, it roars along at a riotous pace, allowing the viewer the chance to simultaneously feel like we are alongside Abel on his journey, yet never truly knowing what step he will take next.
Perhaps the biggest triumph of Garrel’s effort is the way the film manages to seamlessly merge comic moments with some hard-hitting truths. Although we rarely go longer than a few minutes without cracking a smile, A Faithful Man convincingly and tactfully tackles the subject of grief from various angles throughout. The result is a multi-dimensional slice of life that never takes itself too seriously.