After playing several variations of romantic and dark heroes, Louis Garrel has written a completely playful film, the starting point of which is very freely inspired by his own family history. By satisfying his desires as a filmmaker, the actor at the same time offered himself one of his greatest pleasures as an actor. Interview.

Louis Garrel comes from a family of artists. His grandfather, Maurice, walked his unique look in cinema and theater for more than five decades. His father, Philippe, is a prolific filmmaker, whose films make the heyday of the festival circuit (Le grand chariot, in which Louis plays with his sisters Esther and Lena, won the prize for directing in Berlin last month ). His mother, Brigitte Sy, is also an actress and filmmaker. And even if he secretly maintains the dream of perhaps one day directing an opera, especially La Tosca, Louis Garrel devotes all his energies to cinema, that of others as much as his own.

Revealed on the international scene 20 years ago thanks to The Dreamers, by Bernardo Bertolucci, Louis Garrel is now making his fourth feature film as a filmmaker. Quoted 11 times at the recent Césars for French cinema, L’innocent, which won its authors the César for best screenplay and Noémie Merlant the trophy for best actress in a supporting role, is a comedy at the center of which represents an unbreakable bond binding a mother and her son, regardless of the circumstances.

“Even if it includes more dramatic moments, The Innocent was conceived above all as an entertainment film”, explains Louis Garrel during a telephone interview.

A bit like the mother character played – brilliantly – by the all-too-rare Anouk Grinberg in the feature film, the filmmaker’s mother actually married in a prison – she ran acting workshops there – with an inmate whose she fell in love. There, however, the similarities between life and fiction end. In the company of co-screenwriters Tanguy Viel and Naïla Guiguet, Louis Garrel, who also plays the role of the son in his film, has imagined a completely crazy story, where the latter begins to spy on the smallest actions and gestures of the new lover (Roschdy Zem) of his mother, whose feelings he doubts.

“I had this project for quite a while, but even though we borrowed from genres that were very well known to the public, we had to reinvent everything. The script took quite a long time to write, because my concern was to come up with a film that hadn’t already been made. »

Louis Garrel, whose image has often been associated with that of a romantic and dark hero in different universes, whether those of Christophe Honoré, Bertrand Bonello, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Maïwenn, Arnaud Desplechin or that of his father Philippe, this time leaps with both feet into frank comedy, a genre he claims to have been “a bit scared” of over the years.

“I’m not sure what exactly I was afraid of – the perception of a genre not noble enough, perhaps – but the fact is that a lot of contradictory things made the public a certain image of me. How you are revealed then becomes your reputation. And mine was that of a tormented young first. Probably because of the curls! »

He therefore calls L’innocent a “variety film”, a category intended to reach the widest audience, in the same sense that a variety show includes its good share of popular songs. To accompany his story, Louis Garrel did not hesitate to choose hits from the past that can be heard on nostalgia radio stations, from Pour le Plaisir by Herbert Léonard to Nuit Magique by Catherine Lara…

Having started acting as a child in his father’s films (he was 6 years old when he held his first role in Rescue Kisses), the actor also wanted to go behind the camera at a very young age.

“At the Conservatory, I understood very quickly that the way someone else sees what we do is important. I love acting, but I also like being the one looking at the scene and having access to solutions that the actor cannot see himself right away while acting. At the time, I had wanted to direct Haute surveillance, by Jean Genet, but I was too nervous. »

And how does it explain the public and critical success L’innocent achieved in France after being launched out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival?

“François Truffaut, my idol, used to say that you can’t control the adequacy of a subject with the desires of the public. Obviously, I am delighted with this success, but it is always a bit surprising when it happens. I think it comes down to the encounter between the actors. Anouk Grinberg and Roschdy Zem are touching together. Noémie [Merlant] is great. As for me, I hadn’t felt like I was playing such a well-defined character in my other three previous films. The Innocent is both a tribute to the profession of actor and an echo of the fascination it exerts. »