The ‘Foreign Lens’ is a column meant to represent international films and directors with distinct voices, showcasing their part of the world.
The last independent film I saw before Covid-19 swept the nation was A Faithful Man. Released in 2019, the film tells the story of Abel (Louis Garrel), a self-destructive egotistical freeloader who is forced to leave his pregnant girlfriend Marianne (Laetitia Casta) because she moved on with his best friend named Paul. Years later, Paul passes away from cancer, leaving Marianne as a single parent to her son, young Joseph (Joseph Engel). When Abel returned to town to be present for Paul’s funeral, he starts to realize how much he missed out on because he wasn’t there from Marianne.
Naturally, trying to get back together with Marianne proves to be a struggle because Joseph doesn’t exactly trust his motives. In addition to figuring out his feelings for Marianne, he also has another person interested in him in the form of Eve (Lily-Rose Depp). Eve is a woman that was fascinated by Abel as a very young teenager and now in her early 20’s she sets out to win over the man she has always loved. As you can imagine, being forced to choose between fun and commitment is difficult for Abel knowing that one person means a future and the other person is still learning what that means.
A Faithful Man portrays a man put off balance by those he is trying to care about. Marianne and Eve are great distractions for Abel, but probably the biggest distraction is Joseph’s theory that Marianne murdered her husband, Paul. I love this movie because it’s a darkly comedic film that spends most of its time showing its audience character motivations more than using up time watching characters make decisions the audience would begrudge them for.
This is one of the few times in cinema where knowing each character’s motivations through monologued voiceover is vital. Louis Garrel makes sure that no character is without flaw. Abel is trapped, and what becomes entertaining is watching how much he struggles to decide what he values more. Marianne, as a character, is very much a straight shooter in terms of her belief system. Above all, her goal is to protect her child but also to guard her heart. Watching Laetitia Casta be firm with Abel and be as principled as she is was so refreshing.
Most romantic female leads, especially in American cinema, start out principled and slowly break down based on how they feel about the person they like. That doesn’t happen here, and it’s rewarding to see the male lead be the person forced to grow up rather than the female lead being emotionally manipulated.
Joseph is a great character because while his father’s death is upsetting, he sees a great opportunity to play cat and mouse games with Abel. Part of the game is to test what Abel can put up with, but the other half is using his trickery as an outlet for the loss he feels. It’s very mature of a comedy to explore that level of depth with a child dealing with grief. The appeal of French films for me is the risks they are willing to take with the story. France never is afraid of making the male lead unlikable. A Faithful Man and its premise make such a risk a pleasure to watch being played out on screen.
A Faithful Man is one of those romantic comedies where you believe the scenario’s chaos more than you do the characters themselves. As foreign films go, this film will always be a rewarding watch because it comments on how the passage of time can change people. Love sometimes doesn’t die; it just grows in a different direction, and this film highlights that theme is charming and subtle ways. It’s worth a watch for anyone looking for something unique in terms of a romantic comedy.