Much like a soufflé, Louis Garrel’s French romantic comedy is light, yet complex, and oh, so delicious. Fresno Filmworks presented “A Faithful Man” on Friday, Oct. 11 at the Tower Theatre. Writer/director Garrel is the son of renowned French filmmaker Philippe Garrel and, like his father, imbues his second film with the spirit of French New Wave Cinema. Rejecting the narrative style of traditional Hollywood films, New Wave directors sought a fresh approach to storytelling. They challenged viewers to react emotionally to their films, pushing them to feel a connection to their own lives. At a tightly written 75 minutes, “A Faithful Man” expertly develops a love triangle and a murder mystery.
The film opens with Marianne telling her live-in boyfriend Abel (played by Garrel) that she is pregnant and the child is not his. In most films this would lead to nasty accusations, screaming and the slamming of doors. Instead, Abel accepts the news calmly, his sad face belying any hint of anger. To add insult to injury, the father of the child (and the man Marianne will marry in just days) is Abel’s close friend, Paul.
Eight years pass and we learn that Paul has died, leaving behind Marianne and their son Joseph. It is impossible to remain on the sidelines as you watch the story unfold. As we see Abel staring longingly at Marianne (Garrel’s wife, Laetitia Casta) at Paul’s funeral, are we shocked at the fervor of his feelings, or do we support his seemingly self-destructive desire to get back into a relationship with a woman who treated him so badly? Garrel challenges us to decide, but the effort is never tedious nor difficult as we want to be involved in the solution to Abel’s dilemma.
Suddenly the perspective shifts and to complicate matters even more, Paul’s sister, Eve, (played by Lily-Rose Depp) thrusts herself into the story as the answer to Abel’s woes. As a 10-year-old child, Eve developed a crush on Abel that has now blossomed into what she believes is true love, and she confronts Marianne with her decision to fight for Abel. Are her feelings for him sweet, or do they border on obsession? What ensues is an engaging and humorous romantic romp.
It is remarkable that with such a short running time, Garrel introduces yet another plot twist. Marianne’s precocious 8-year-old son Joseph is obsessed with police murder cases and does his best to convince Abel that Marianne poisoned her late husband. Again, we must ask ourselves, is this is the behavior of a child attempting to scare off his mother’s potential suitor, or did Marianne in fact, poison Paul? Although dark subject matter, it is treated with such a light touch that we are intrigued but not distressed. Garrel wisely allows us to draw our own conclusions about the future of his characters.
A retired high school English teacher, Cindy Peters Duzi serves on the Filmworks board as venue director. She blogs about current cinema on her Instagram.