“He is the most attractive man in the world,” says Eve (Lily Rose-Depp) at one point about Abel (Louis Garrel), the man she’s had a crush on since childhood. Usually, I would think this is narcissistic—after all, this is a line written by Garrel (and legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière) about a character that he plays. But, let’s be honest, is he actually wrong? ‘Write what you know’ is the old saying, and what Garrel knows is: 1) he’s very good-looking and 2) how to write a charming film of a decidedly very French variety.
If you’re familiar with how French romance films tend to play out, you’ll probably know the title is a bit tongue-in-cheek. The cold open sets the film’s delightfully deadpan tone where you’re not quite sure if you’re supposed to be laughing at everyone’s misfortune. Abel is taken by surprise when his girlfriend Marianne (Laetitia Casta) tells him he’s pregnant—and that his best friend Paul (who we never see) is the father. Then a decade passes and the two reunite after Paul suddenly dies, and it’s not long before Abel moves back in with Marianne to the chagrin of her son, Joseph (Joseph Engel, who steals every scene he’s in).
The fourth player is Eve who tries to come between Abel and Marianne when she sees her opportunity. Her obsessive love for Abel is played for laughs—a side-splitting montage of her previous attempts to woo him over to no success more than confirms this—but her desire is also taken seriously. And it’s not all whimsical shenanigans either, as Abel’s romantic dilemma raises that disappointing realisation that the pursuit of someone is perhaps more exciting than actually being with them.
A Faithful Man is the kind of rom-com that feels like it was plucked straight out of the French New Wave. The film effortlessly jumps between plots and characters. Winsome voiceover provides a triad of perspectives that eliminates any mystery, and instead prioritises character. Bolstered by a featherlight screenplay that’s completely self-aware, Garrel’s promising second feature (after the perfectly fine Two Friends) is full of wit in both the dialogue and its visual style. Smack a black-and-white filter on it, and it wouldn’t be difficult to mistake it for early Truffaut.
There’s a small thrill in seeing Garrel play against type as an awkward loser. The comedy is a few degrees short of slapstick, as Garrel frequently falls over and lugs around holdalls between apartments. Rose-Depp meanwhile finds her best role to date in Eve. In a career marked by more than a few stumbles, she hasn’t quite been able to find the right film to let her talent shine. But in A Faithful Man, she gets to show off her impressive comedic chops as a naive but ferocious go-getter.
Simple pleasures are the essence of Garrel’s intimate comedy. The stakes are low but it doesn’t take much to care for these hopeless lovers. They sort of remind you of your friends that you cherish, but worry about all the time because of the questionable choices they make. A Faithful Man is a delightful surprise in which love, death and good ol’ adultery are squeezed into a 75-minute sparkling gem of a film.
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