2018

TIFF 2018: The French Affair – A Review of Louis Garrel’s ‘A Faithful Man’

When one writes about a French film like Louis Garrel’s A Faithful Man, it makes sense to begin with a food metaphor. Garrel’s second feature film as a director is as delicate and delightful as a well-whipped meringue: light, fluffy, sweet and delectable.

The film opens in the home that Abel (Garrel) shares with his girlfriend of three years, Marianne (the ever-beautiful Laetitia Casta), but — given a bizarre turn of events — they need to break up, and Marianne marries a common friend, Paul. Abel walks out of their beautiful Parisian apartment, his baggage in tow, into beautiful Parisian Latin Quarter streets and a narrative that becomes the best French rom-com you will see in recent times.

About six years from the film’s beginning, Paul (who never makes an appearance) dies suddenly in his sleep, and Abel visits the grieving family at the funeral. Marianne now has a son, Joseph (the brilliant Joseph Engel), and Eve (Lily-Rose Depp) — who Abel last saw as a kid — is now a beautiful and attractive young woman. Joseph is obviously attracted to Eve, but this meeting also rekindles his desire to be back with Marianne, which he does with little delay. Although it doesn’t become a deep meditation on grief and coping, the film always acknowledges the absent presence of Paul and what that does to each of the relationships in question.

While the crime story-obsessed Joseph cooks up fascinating narratives of his mother poisoning his father to keep Abel away, Abel and Marianne gingerly tiptoe into being a couple again. It goes well until Eve confronts Marianne and confesses to having a crush on Abel for as long as she has known him. Stopping short of challenging Marianne to a duel, Eve declares war and therein starts the amusing tug of war with Abel in the middle. In order to make sure he makes a doubt-free decision, Marianne asks him to move in with Eve and see where it goes with her. Trusting him to eventually come back to her, Marianne, in her gracious best, declares war. Abel with all his baggage, emotional and otherwise, moves to Eve’s tiny apartment. It is a fairylights-lined fairytale to begin, but time soon catches up.

“Is it true people are going to live to be 100 …120?” Eve asks Abel. “It’ll be such hard work saving for retirement,” he replies. “It’ll be hard to make love last that long,” she says.

In this little exchange, Garrel and his co-scriptwriter, the legendary Jean-Claude Carrière, communicate a whole body of perspectives on what time and age does to the idea of love and companionship. Eve’s life-long fascination with Abel slowly dissipates with habit, and Abel, too, outgrows the radiance of the much younger Eve, before coming back to another character at the end of a traditional rom-com-esque chase and run sequence.

For a film called A Faithful Man, it obviously opens up a conversation on what fidelity really means within and out of romantic relationships. Within the power plays of a self-aware love triangle, Garrel examines love, sex and companionship and tries to get to a point where everyone meets and exists in perfect harmony. It’s a tug of war between these three, and the final result is basically a test of which one outlives the others.

Bedatri Datta Choudhury (@Bedatri) grew up in India and has studied Literature and Cinema at the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and New York University. She moonlights as a writer and likes writing on films, gender and culture. She lives in New York City and loves eating cake.

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