Wednesday 22 March 2023

Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 - đŸŽ„ Janice Tong's Filmic Postcard #1 - WINTER BOY (Christophe HonorĂ©, 2022) + THE INNOCENT (Louis Garrel, 2022)

A wonderful performance by Paul Kircher  (above) as Lucas
Winter Boy

Le lycéen
 | Winter Boy

L’innocent | The Innocent 


The Alliance Française French Film Festival returns this year with a good number of my favourite directors and actors: Arnaud DesplechinMia Hansen-LĂžveLouis GarrelChristophe HonorĂ©Juliette BinocheBenoĂźt MagimelJean Dujardin (in 2 films!), Marion CotillardLĂ©a SeydouxPascal Greggory and not to mention Alice Diop’s Saint Omer. What a huge list to name drop! 


The first two films I saw were Louis Garrel’s The Innocent and Christophe HonorĂ©’s Winter Boy: there’s a kind of complex symmetry as well as dissonance between the two films. 


Garrel had been a steady presence in HonorĂ©’s earlier films and the story of this young teenager Lucas Ronis, embodied heart and soul by relative newcomer, Paul Kircher, (he also won the Best Leading Actor Award in the 70th San SebastiĂĄn International Film Festival) could have been played by Garrel once upon a time. Their continued collaboration also saw HonorĂ© co-write Garrel’s first feature film Les deux amis Two Friends (2015).  


Winter Boy is one of the most autobiographical narratives by HonorĂ© to date. In fact, the story feels so personal at times that it can be difficult to watch. A rude wake-up call from adolescence lands Lucas into a broken world of grief (at the sudden loss of his father) and this ‘event’ saw him change in that same day – he gives into whatever trade-offs needed, his desires, his way of opening up to the world, his fears, to dull that pain. The void of grief is an unfathomable chasm – it throws him off balance; and there’s simply no safety net below, even if there is a bottom. It is but an endless fall. 

Christophe Honoré and Paul Kircher on set

It’s telling that this film was about HonorĂ©’s own father, for the director makes a guest appearance as Lucas’ father in a small but significant scene. Juliette Binoche’s role is a tour de force as Lucas’ mother; loving, calm, consoling and grieving at the same time. Lucas’ flight to Paris with his brother, Quentin (Vincent Lacoste), forms the first part of his story – and creates the arc to his pain. His brother was careless with him, perhaps not knowing the fragility of Lucas.  He was pushed out of the apartment, Quentin throwing 10 Euros at him in an almost derogatory manner; the boy then spent his time walking the streets (and more) before buying some flowers for his brother: a beautiful gesture. Kircher delivers these moments with an innocence that makes you weep tears of blood; and in other scenes, the few sexual encounters he shares with his new-found lovers also felt deeply personal to HonorĂ©.

A stolen moment of happiness in Paris. Paul Kircher, Vincent Lacoste
as Quentin (middle), and Erwan Kepoa Falé as Lilio (right)

Lilio (Erwan Kepoa FalĂ©, also new to the acting scene) is perhaps my favourite character in the film. He has a handsome voice and face; gentle and strong: and it is his figure which links the broken Lucas to the mended Lucas at the end of the film. Just like another French film, Close, that I saw a month ago; Winter Boy traces that seemingly unbridgeable gap between heartbreak and friendship. But just like that, friendship can give the unspeakable its potential to become a song.


If I was to question one thing: it would be how is it that HonorĂ©’s very fine film only took $484,040 (I’m assuming USD) in the box office.  Garrel’s crime-comedy caper took $5.1M (I’m again assuming USD) at the box office.


I have nothing against comedy, nor a crime romance – there have been plenty in that genre that I adored: To Catch a Thief (1955), How to Steal a Million (1966), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) and more recently The Duke(2020); however, I found Garrel’s film The Innocent to be entertaining but lightweight. His directorial style makes me feel as though I’m watching an early Xavier Dolan film, (odd camera angles, the use of loud music, and characters who seem larger than life) but lacking in Dolan’s stylishness or his later noir elements. All this aside, at its heart, this is a film about family; and Garrel’s love for his mother shines through – this film was dedicated to her and to his son, Azel. The loud music which I’m unaccustomed to, is after all, a part of his history and works well within this family drama. It’s full of those quirks you suddenly become privy to as part of its inner circle. 

Louis Garrel, Roschdy Zem, The Innocent


In The Innocent, as with Winter Boy, a lot of the ‘personal’ is embedded throughout the film. The first piece of music which opens the film is Pour le Plaisir by Herbert LĂ©onard; and it is a song that Garrel listened to when he was just a boy with his mother. In an interview in L’OBS, he said that he had wanted to make a ‘variety’ film – he had read Frank Capra’s autobiography Hollywood Story and was intrigued at his idea of ‘putting on a show’. But unlike Capra, we would find vignettes drawn from Garrel's own life-experience and memories embedded in the film.


Garrel is Abel (again!) – noting with great interest that this is the fourth time he has named his own character Abel in his self-directed feature films: Two Friends (2015), A Faithful Man (2018) and The Crusade (2021). Abel means to respireto breathe; in Hebrew it is Hevel, which has a connotation that something is passing. I think this such a fitting description for Garrel’s character, Abel, to be able to exist – to breathe – as a ‘person’, even if it means that his lifetime is only within the 90 to 120 minutes of a film; Abel gets to live several lifetimes over the course of these five films.

Louis Garrel,Noémie Merlant, The Innocent

So… as I was saying; Garrel is Abel, whose day job is at an aquarium, and clearly, this is something he takes pride in – he has a well-honed story which he retells to groups of school children and parents about his exhibits –  a steady, nondescript kind of job, for an even-tempered, nondescript kind of guy. His mother, Sylvie, (Anouk Grinberg) however, is his polar opposite; she teaches drama at a prison, is partial to wild passion and grandiose gestures, and of course, she falls for one of the prisoners (played by the always charming Roschdy Zem), and they announce that they are to be married. Welcome to the madhouse; where thieves are innocent victims of their own convictions and the wolf call of adventure lures the unsuspecting son into a game – where he comes to a catastrophic (but funny) realisation of his true feelings. Garrel’s mother, Brigitte Sy, did actually teach theatre in prison and married one of the inmates when he was only 12 or 13 years old; so a personal truth is buried underneath the layers of ‘variety’ that helped build up his narrative.



I loved NoĂ©mie Merlant in this film – she has great comic timing (very different from the last role I saw her in Tar) – she is hilarious as ClĂ©mence, Abel’s friend at the aquarium. Their sleuthing and criminal high jinx reminded me a little of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant’s charade, in, you guessed it – Charade (1963), a film which I’ve always loved…I have fond memories of watching this film, as a child, with my own mother. Nostalgia is such a powerful magnet. 


Perhaps this is what the market can bear right now – amidst uncertainty and change; a light-hearted comedy that takes you on a caper – through a personal journey of the familiar and comforting half-recalled memories of childhood; as opposed to HonorĂ©’s deeper and more traumatic remembrance of his own adolescence; the latter is an experience, if you can bear it, that transcends.


The Alliance Française French Film Festival is currently on in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth from now until 5th April; and in other states until the 23rd April.

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