In All Innocence: French Film, Starring Michel Serrault and Nathalie Baye

(En Toute Innocence)

It is always good to see Michel Serrault and Nathalie Baye, two highly accomplished French actors, on screen, even though in En Toute Innocence, they are trapped within a movie that is unworthy of their talents.

Serrault, best known in this country for playing the more feminine half of the gay couple in the “La Cage aux Folles” films, plays Paul Duchene, a benevolent patriarch and founder of a prosperous architectural firm. The Duchenes are a tightly-knit family, living on a large estate in the vicinity of Saint-Emilion. Paul’s son, Thomas (Francois Dunoyer), a childish man chiefly occupied with electronic installations and gadgets (remote control sprinklers), is married to the beautiful and intelligent Catherine (Baye), who also works in the family business.

The timid narrative gets under way, when one evening Paul accidentally catches Catherine in bed with the firm’s young assistant. Up to that moment, Paul thought that his son’s marriage was not only happy but also indestructible. His moral universe suddenly collapses and, insane with rage and despair, he gets into an accident that temporarily deprives him of his speech and the use of his legs.

Catherine asks for forgiveness, but the discreet Paul, a widower who firmly believes that “the family is sacred,” refuses. The suspense begins when he becomes subject of a series of “mishaps”: His wheelchair is pushed into the river, his food get poisoned.

“Is it war you want” asks Catherine, afraid he might talk. The ensuing war between the two is a secret, since Thomas knows nothing about his wife’s adultery. Refusing to forget or forgive her, Paul withdraws into himself but, realizing he might need a method of self-defense, he silently plans a counterattack. It may sound like an interesting idea, but the film’s premise is so shaky that the only unresolved issues are just how far will the duel go and at what costs.

Most of the film consists of mutual observations between Paul and Catherine, but it never becomes the cat and mouse game that is promises to be early on. En Toute Innocence could have been fun to watch if it were not so mechanically plotted, or so predictable.

Unfortunately, the usually excellent Serrault is restricted in this film, not so much by his wheelchair as by a banal script. The translation of the French dialogue into English makes it worse. Indeed, the versatile and charming Nathalie Baye is given horrible lines, as when she tells her husband, “Electronics is not the only thing in life,” or screams at Paul, “You can’t dwarf me by putting me in a tiny pot.”

The plot of En Toute Innocence is so obvious, that when Paul says, “water and electricity are the pits,” the audience knows for sure that these elements would feature in the final battle between the two characters. Worse yet, the movie reveals too many clues, all too early, for its own good; there are no twists and turns. Director-producer Alain Gassy, who also collaborated on the screenplay (with D. Roulet and L. Beraud) shows no particular talent for building suspense. And despite his efforts to postpone it for as long as possible, the film’s outcome is never in doubt, which is detrimental for a movie aiming to be a suspenseful mystery.

Devoid of tension or the much-needed droll humor, all that’s left for the audience to do is watch the two great actors deliver mediocre performances in a routine thriller.

Credits

French with English subtitles
Starring: Michel Serrault and Nathalie Baye
Directed by: Alain Jessua
Screenplay by: D. Roulet, L. Beraud, A. Jessua

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