If a trip to Paris isn’t in the books this weekend, consider escaping to the Siskel Film Center for a screening of A Faithful Man, a 75-minute romantic comedy of errors only the French could get away with. Directed by Louis Garrel (from a script by Jean-Claude Carrière), who stars alongside his real-life spouse Laetitia Casta and Lily-Rose Depp (yes, Johnny is her dad), this goofy, romantic thing delights even as it confounds, the lead characters going to great lengths to (apparently purposefully) overcomplicate their lives.
Garrel is Abel, a young man we meet while he’s still in college just as his girlfriend, whose apartment he’s living in, breaks the news that she’s pregnant…and it’s not his. In fact, it’s their mutual friend Paul who’s the father, a man Marianne (Casta) has been seeing for about a year, and she’s set to marry him before the month is out. Their relationship instantly over, Marianne assures Abel she’ll tell Paul he took it well, which, he sort of does. Though there’s no screaming or drama, the heartbreak is evident.
Much of Abel’s story comes from Abel himself, delivered in a voiceover that keeps us up to speed throughout the film. After the break-up, the story fast-forwards just about a decade; Marianne has had the baby, who’s now a kid named Joseph; Abel meets him for the first time when he attends Paul’s funeral, his old friend having died suddenly in his sleep. One glance at Marianne and all his old feelings come rushing back; the two really reconnect when Abel offers to drive them home after the services.
And it’s about here that Garrel lets us in on a little secret: despite the film’s title, this isn’t just Abel’s story. It’s Marianne’s, too. And Eve’s (Depp), Paul’s younger sister who’s been in love (from afar) with Abel since she was a kid. Each of the women break in with voiceovers of their own, the perspective shifting in this romantic triangle ensuring our sympathies are never too invested in any one of them over the others. In reality, all three are flawed and misguided; to be sure, some of their decisions are downright confusing. But they’re human (and French, have I mentioned that?), and the heart wants what it wants, as they say.
As Abel settles into life with Marianne and Joseph (who proves to be a bit of a character himself, mischievous and clever, even as he grieves), Eve decides it’s time to make her move, confronting Marianne about her feelings for Abel. The film gloriously fails the Bechdel test, as the two women only talk about a man in their shared scene, but it’s such a gleefully spiteful moment you’ll manage to forgive. Once Marianne knows about Eve’s crush on Abel, the whole affair becomes even more complicated than it already was, and to share specifically how would be to spoil the fun. Suffice it to say, these three navigate their relationship woes in ways no couples therapist would ever recommend.
And yet, it works—for them, and for the film. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about Abel (though in Garrel’s care, he’s nothing if not charming and earnest), which makes the way both Marianne and Eve fall for him all the more resonant. It’s a testament to how the long, shared histories that tie us together or the longing for someone we can’t have makes them all the more attractive. Carrière’s script succeeds as it finds truth in both life’s heaviest moments (loss of the ones we love) and its most absurd (infatuation with the ones we think we love), and Garrel’s assured direction gives him and his cast the freedom to feel the tough stuff and have fun with the rest. It’s a fine line that results in a film that isn’t quite a rom-com, but is uniquely Parisian and an absolute treat.
A Faithful Man is now playing at Gene Siskel Film Center.
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