We owe a lot to the French New Wave. Minds like Truffaut, Godard, and many more fundamentally changed how we looked at film. And now, in present-day, director and actor Louis Garrel is adding a new spin to the formula that this movement created, inverting conventions of the French romance film in A Faithful Man.
Yes, this all sounds great in theory, but as A Faithful Man shows, more than a solid concept is necessary for a solid film.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Louis Garrel
Written By: Jean-Claude Carrière and Louis Garrel
Starring: Louis Garrel, Laetitia Casta, Lily-Rose Depp, and Joseph Engel
Abel (Garrel) is shocked to learn that his long-time girlfriend Marianne (Casta) has not only been seeing his friend Paul for quite some time, but that she is now pregnant and wishes to leave Abel for Paul so that they can marry. (Talk about a bad day!) Without putting up much of a fight, Abel leaves, incredibly unsure about his romantic future.
Nine years later, Abel learns that Paul has passed away, and a connection begins to grow again between Marianne and him once more. The reunion isn’t a smooth one, however, as Abel must juggle the drama of Marianne’s child’s morbid curiosity, a younger woman waiting in the wings to hopefully achieve Abel’s affection (Depp), and questions about what exactly happened to Paul in the first place.
A Faithful Man Has Very Odd Shifts in Tone
A Faithful Man isn’t Louis Garrel’s first rodeo. The same can said for legendary writer Jean-Claude Carrière, who continues his impressive and prolific writing career into his late 80’s. As such, the film feels like it’s coming from a few steady hands as it is unafraid to mess with the form and create a meta piece of art. At first, A Faithful Man plays out like a soap opera as the Abel character hears about Marianne’s fidelity. After a long bit of narration, the film then shifts to a quasi-mystery as Marianne’s son Joseph reveals some possibly troubling information about Paul’s death. And then, as Lily-Rose Depp’s character enters the equation, A Faithful Man turns into a farce of a love triangle.
I admire such strong choices in a film, especially within a genre that desperately needs to continue to reinvent itself to stay relevant. A Faithful Man always manages to stay intriguing, if simply by way of making the viewer think, “um, what exactly is going on here?” Though it is a self-referential movie, it never winks at the camera, leaving the viewer in a state of constant confusion. The cinematography and performances are minimalist as well, never tipping their hands or imploring the audience to take note. The idea of someone watching this movie and taking it completely seriously tickles my cynical side.
Being Funny vs. The Idea of Being Funny
But then we get to the actual execution of those ideas which is an entirely different story. Though I appreciate an austere take on an absurd story, this presentation simply isn’t a good match for what A Faithful Man is trying to accomplish. The film feels largely cold and uninspired, so even though I can appreciate what this film is going for, in the end, it’s never engrossing.
The best word to describe A Faithful Man is “trivial.” Louis Garrel, Laetitia Casta, and Lily-Rose Depp all perform admirably in their roles — especially Depp who continues to make interesting choices as a young actress — but their material never passes the age-old question of movie-making: why does this movie exist?
A good comparison to A Faithful Man is Will Ferrell’s A Deadly Adoption. (I’m fairly positive this is the first and only comparison you’ll see between these two films.) The Lifetime movie was a gut-busting idea in concept: bring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig together for an over-the-top melodrama that the channel is best known for, and play it straight. The joke was that there was no joke. A Faithful Man plays out with the same idea in mind by having actors react to categorically absurd relationship drama like it is totally reasonable.
I love the idea behind both of these films, but in both cases, the final product left me wanting more. The fact is that it’s very difficult to formulate such a comedic take in a way that is equally fun to watch as it was for everyone involved to make. In most cases, it’s ultimately a missed opportunity where the film failed to push the farce as far as possible. A Faithful Man feels like it is constantly fighting its own construction, confused if it should take the charade to another level or retreat within itself.
Basically, I see what you did there, movie, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.
Though I’m a sucker for a movie where beautiful French people talk about their love life and the intricacies surrounding it, A Faithful Man never reaches its comedic potential. It’s never a chore to get through at only 75 minutes, but I was consistently frustrated by the film, clamoring for more substance that never came.
A Faithful Man is a graduate-level class in creating a facade of quality. Allusions to a famous film movement? Check. A meta take on tired conventions? Check. French people talking about romance and delivering lofty dialogue? Check, and check! But when we strip away A Faithful Man‘s clever flourishes, does it have anything meaningful to say? I don’t necessarily think so.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on A Faithful Man? Comment down below!
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