A tart, seriocomic morsel of desire and doubt, Louis Garrel’s “A Faithful Man” is the French actor-filmmaker’s second examination of triangulated romance after his debut feature as a director, “Two Friends.”
It starts with a scene of peculiarly deadpan devastation: Parisian journalist Abel (Garrel) calmly accepting the news that his live-in love, Marianne (Laetitia Casta), is pregnant with the child of his best friend and is leaving him. Ten years later, Marianne, with a precocious son (Joseph Engel) in tow, is back in Abel’s life. But so is the now-grown sister of Abel’s friend, Eva (a vibratingly funny Lily-Rose Depp), whose girlhood crush on Abel has turned into what she sees as a reachable conquest.
Garrel, who wrote the screenplay with art-house elder statesman Jean-Claude Carrière, knows how to coast on the classic appeal of a sexy, sardonic French relationship three-hander while tweaking the emotional contours with a gimmick here (narration from all three leads), a twist there (is someone a murderer?), and the kind of third-act romantic gambit that finishes everything with the right amount of blushing, humorous suspense.
The simplistic heart wisdom about the road not traveled isn’t as fun as the journey, however, which — at a friendly hour-and-a-quarter — satisfies in the manner of a brisk short story. Casta’s wry, enigmatic and fiercely intelligent modern-woman sensuality, however, is the one element in this scenario that could burst free of Garrel’s bite-size architecture and be worthy of epic treatment.
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.