“I Was Afraid Of Making An Action Movie!” – Louis Garrel On The Innocent

While in the early stages of writing a script that would become The Innocent, Louis Garrel was aiming to make a thriller inspired by classic film noir. He was told by a friend, almost immediately, that this would be a bad idea.

“In one of the earlier drafts of the script, there was a lot of action”, he told Zavvi. “And a friend warned me that I was entering competition with American cinema – I’m not Michael Mann, so I can’t give the audience what they want from an action scene!

“I was afraid of making an action movie, it’s a very masculine genre, and that’s an energy I needed to balance out. So I just thought: “let’s be French” – and so I added love elements to the heist scene, and it instantly became more original, a sudden inflation of violence now took place within a romcom”.

It’s an unpredictable ride; a tense thriller one minute, a quirky comedy the next, as we follow Abel (Garrel) as he investigates his mother’s new husband – a recently released convict whom Abel believes has lapsed back into a life of crime. With the help of his aquarium co-worker Clémence (Noémie Merlant, previously seen in Portrait Of A Lady On Fire), they intend to uncover that he’s still a criminal after all, but accidentally fall into helping him with one final job.

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The most surprising thing about The Innocent might be the fact that Garrel took loose inspiration for this story from his own life. His mother, actress Brigitte Sy, did in fact start a relationship with a prison inmate, which went on to inspire her autobiographical 2010 film Les Mains libres – however, the actor/director is keen to point out that there’s nothing too personal in his film beyond this.

He explained: “I thought that the idea of a son finding out his mum was marrying someone in jail would be a good start to a story, but I didn’t want to make a chronicle of my life. I wanted to make an adventurous movie that an audience would enjoy.

“The character of the mother (Sylvie, played by Anouk Grinberg) is very close to the energy of my mum; they’re both brave, courageous people. But I had no interest in following the naturalistic elements of my past, I was always focused on making a movie full of joy – something that was playful even though it would have tragic elements.”

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Although he initially wanted to mould a movie in the vein of a classic noir, Garrel ended up avoiding the genre altogether while preparing to make The Innocent. He ended up taking inspiration from Italian films from the sixties, due to how, in his words, “they can have a tragic scene with a character going through a difficult moment and follow that up immediately with the most ridiculous comedy imaginable”.

Another thing he was initially adamant on was making sure he didn’t star in the movie. He’s appeared in front of the camera in each of his directorial efforts to date, but he was far more hesitant this time around.

“I was afraid of portraying the relationship between the mother and a son; whilst writing, I thought it would be pathological for me to being playing a guy so close to a mother who’s very close to what mine is like! But then my character transformed more so it was further removed from who I am – he had a partner who was killed in an accident, which became an important factor in shaping him.

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“It was a different process to usual, because I love to play a role in my films as it means I get to be close to the actors, and working with actors is my favourite part about making a film. I also think it’s a funny thing for the audience; seeing a character played by the director, who is completely lost and trapped within a scene he organised directly!”

Even though he was an actor first – making his debut at the age of 5 in a film directed by his father, Phillippe – he aims for his writing process to be as organic as possible. Creating a character with a specific actor in mind, for example, would compromise the finished product.

He explained: “These characters must feel real, like they exist without the presence of an actor, even just in thoughts. I didn’t start searching for actors until I knew they were well-defined – they had to work on paper before they could be brought to life.”

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More than a year after it first premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, and Garrel remains delighted with how “unconventional” his movie is, especially considering how challenging it was to perfect the fine balance of comedy, romance and thriller in both the writing and editing. He remembers how nervous he felt before the film’s world premiere, which now feels strange when looking back from the other side.

“It was the first day of the festival, so there were acclaimed actors and filmmakers from around the world in attendance – it was in the biggest theater in Cannes, with 2,000 people in attendance, so the beginning of the screening felt like a waking nightmare.

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“It’s the world’s biggest film festival, so it wouldn’t just be a French audience who know I’d made a bad film, they’d know it in Mexico and beyond!

“Suddenly, 10 minutes in, people started laughing. I’d avoided making the biggest failure of my life!”

The Innocent is in UK cinemas now.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.