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Comedy of Innocence

Posted by martinteller on October 1, 2013

Camille’s (Nils Hugon) mother Ariane (Isabelle Huppert) is a stage designer, his father Pierre (Denis Podalydès) often away on business.  Camille amuses himself by making films — some of them abstract — with his camcorder.  On his 9th birthday, he starts acting strange, calling his parents by their first names, and asking to be taken “home”.  He leads Ariane to the residence of Isabella (Jeanne Balibar), a violin tutor who lost her own son, Paul, two years ago.  Camille insists that he is Paul and Isabella insists that he is her child.  Unable to sway either of them towards the truth, Ariane invites Isabella into her home, while enlisting the help of her psychiatrist brother Serge (Charles Berling) to unravel this mystery and regain her son.

Ruiz crafts an intriguing premise, and plays a series of narrative games with the audience.  The film frequently presents some tidbit that may or may not be a red herring: a scandal in Ariane’s family history, a relative (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) who chooses to act as the maid, an “imaginary friend”, a set of dice that always roll the same numbers.  Even when the story seems to be coalesce into a logical explanation, there are lingering doubts about the reality of the situation, leaving the door open for alternate interpretations.

Ruiz also peppers the scene with symbolic images, such as a painting depicting the “wisdom of Solomon” incident, or a two-headed statue displayed prominently.  Although some of these are too blatantly spotlighted to be considered at all subtle, they add additional layers to potential readings of the events.

As always with Ruiz, the cinematography is exquisite.  The camera elegantly glides through space, losing characters and catching up with them, giving life to their own surroundings.  Hugon gives a fine child performance, and Balibar makes for a very compelling presence.  I’m less certain about Huppert, who is usually reliable but here strays too far from the more grounded character she seems meant to represent.  But perhaps this ambiguity of character is deliberate.

The film isn’t entirely successful as Ruiz often seems more interested in playing games than uncovering meaningful connections.  The battle for Camille starts to feel repetitive and there are moments where the movie could use more forward — or at least lateral — momentum.  But it’s an unusual head-scratcher of a film that feels ideal for a second viewing, with more concentration on the thematic intent.  Rating: Good (74)


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