What sounds more like a French film festival outing than a romantic comedy centered around infidelity? In the wrong hands, this movie could have been a parody of itself. Luckily, “A Faithful Man” has a light touch. Actor/filmmaker Louis Garrel never takes things too seriously here, which works in his favor. This New York Film Festival offering is one of the rare comedies to screen. While it’s hardly a laugh riot and actually does traffic in some sad material, this is still a smile inducing time. It’s unlikely to blow you away, but when something like this screens among a ton of incredibly dark stuff, it stands out in just the right way.
Interestingly, “A Faithful Man” could easily be remade into an American film without much in the way of tinkering. That doesn’t mean it will or even should happen, but it does speak to the accessibility of the story. Some have spoken of Garrel’s flick as being an homage to French New Wave cinema, but that suggests something less mainstream. This is the rare foreign film that could play in 1000 theaters across the country. Oftentimes, the sort of movie that does that is on the harmless and inoffensive side. This isn’t quite that, but it’s close.
From the moment Abel (Abel) is told by his girlfriend Marianne (Laetitia Casta) that they need to talk, things begin going downhill for him. Not only has she been having an affair, she’s pregnant. On top of that, she’s not pregnant with Abel’s child, but with her lover’s. As if that doesn’t blindside him enough, Marianne says she’s keeping the child, marrying this man, and Abel needs to move out. Oh, but he’s invited to the wedding, which is soon. Did I mention that she’s leaving him for Paul, his best friend?
Eight years later, Paul has died and Abel re-enters Marianne’s life. Her son Joseph (Joseph Engel) takes a liking to him, albeit with a tinge of jealousy, and soon they’re a couple again. At the same time, Paul’s sister Eva (Lily-Rose Depp) has held a torch for Abel for years now. If this sounds like the makings of a romantic comedy where various pairings make up, break up, and dance around the obvious couples that should be together, well, you know what kind of a film this is.
The most impressive performance in “A Faithful Man” belongs to Lily-Rose Depp. Formerly best known for her role in “Yoga Hosers,” she turns in wonderful work here, all in French too. She’s vibrant and the camera loves her. Laetitia Casta is very solid too, so it’s nothing against her. Depp just has that extra something to her. Louis Garrel gives himself the most screen time, though he’s more of a reactive actor, letting the ladies do the juicy work. Joseph Engel is fine in the small part of the boy, though he’s unremarkable. Garrel has nice chemistry with both Casta and Depp, which is essential for the movie to work.
In addition to starring, Louis Garrel directs and co-writes here with Jean-Claude Carrière. The direction is unfussy and never calls attention to itself. The writing is of a similar ilk, though with more than its share of chuckle-worthy moments. Carrière and Garrel know the premise isn’t completely original, so they try to make it as witty as possible, without going overboard. Interestingly, for what could have been a French sex farce, this is surprisingly chaste stuff. It’s far more interested in love than sex. Especially since this is a story rooted in infidelity, it’s unusual to see.
Don’t go into “A Faithful Man” looking for the cinematic wheel to be reinvented. Instead, look for a simple story to be well done. It stands out as one of the most enjoyable NYFF titles so far. The 2018 festival has been incredibly heavy, so this is even more appreciated than usual. The film works to make you smile, succeeding more often than not.