Adele Haenel stars as a French Riviera detective who tries to make amends after discovering her late husband was a crooked cop in Pierre Salvadori’s screwball crime romance.
Thanks to crime capers like the Taxi franchise, Marseilles is no stranger to cartoon violence and unorthodox police work. Pierre Salvadori’s The Trouble With You echoes those elements but is less interested in accelerated action than in the daffy romantic entanglements that ensue when the female protagonist starts spinning well-intentioned deceptions. That character is played with a collision of heedless irrationality and loopy integrity by a very funny Adele Haenel, flanked by appealing co-stars. If the movie overloads on the quirks, it has enough disarming absurdist elements and directorial brio to bolster its domestic profile.
As with most French comedy, international prospects will be trickier, but audiences familiar with Haenel’s intense presence in films like the Dardenne brothers’ The Unknown Girl or Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute) will be surprised to see the grace and buoyancy she brings to a character with delightful shades of the classic screwball heroine.
Salvadori and co-writers Benoit Graffin and Benjamin Charbit kick off with an exhilarating spurt of indirection in a hilariously choreographed action sequence parody that’s like vintage Jean-Paul Belmondo crime crossed with Blaxploitation. Coolly in-command police chief Santi (Vincent Elbaz) leads a drug bust that escalates into heightened ass-kicking mayhem, as title credits appear, styled after “zap! kapow!” comic-book graphics and accompanied by Camille Bazbaz’s retro go-go score.
It’s soon revealed that this exaggerated account of law-enforcement heroics is a regular bedtime story told by widowed detective Yvonne (Haenel) to her young son Theo (Octave Bossuet) to feed memories of the boy’s father, who was killed in the line of duty two years earlier. The scene will be a recurring motif throughout the film, with Santi’s role continually modified as disillusioned Yvonne comes to terms with the truth about her late husband.
Just as a ghastly bronze statue of the local hero is unveiled on the waterfront, a raid on a shady suburban S&M parlor unearths the revelation that Santi took a hefty cut from an insurance scam on a jewelry store robbery, along with the ring on Yvonne’s finger. Worse still, he sent an innocent young man, Antoine (Pio Marmai), to prison for eight years as a scapegoat. Suddenly discovering the fruits of habitual graft all around her, the scrupulously honest Yvonne questions whether she knew the father of her child at all.
Determined to makes amends, she attempts to go to the local judge with the truth, but family friend and fellow cop Louis (Damien Bonnard) convinces her not to tarnish the man Theo idolizes, reasoning that it’s too late to make a difference because Antoine is due out of prison in two weeks. So instead Yvonne begins trailing the newly released patsy, whose time behind bars has rendered him confused, unpredictable and often violent, somehow convinced he needs to wreak havoc on society to validate his false conviction. “Better a bastard than a victim,” he says, believing his stolen youth gives him endlessly elastic rights to do as he pleases on the outside.
In Marmai’s amusingly unhinged performance, Antoine is a dangerous combination of dumb and rancorous. So while Agnes (Audrey Tautou), the devoted wife who has waited patiently for him, does her best to make allowances for his erratic behavior, it falls to Yvonne to keep him from landing right back in jail. She does this undetected for a while, but before long makes direct contact when she intervenes to stop what she believes is a suicide attempt.
Unaware that she’s a cop, Antoine develops a romantic obsession with her, at the same time that deeper feelings are blossoming between Yvonne and lovestruck puppy Louis. As Antoine spirals further out of control, Yvonne tucks him away in the S&M crime scene to keep him out of trouble. But he finds that bondage and discipline-wear doubles as the perfect catsuit for a robbery, ultimately forcing Yvonne to compromise herself in order to put things right.
The film becomes somewhat overplotted and a tad too clever for its own good as the frantic, farcical complications continue to pile up. But the cast across the board is engaging, mirroring the loose, limber touch of director Salvadori as he establishes order out of chaos and smoothes all the rough edges into a harmonious ending for everyone. Haenel is the standout, warmly conveying the conflicting emotions of a woman making melancholy readjustments to what she believed was a good marriage while opening herself up to something new and more honest.
Along with the rollicking principal plot, the parallel variations on Santi’s drug-ring crackdown provide regular jolts of off-kilter energy that keep reaching new heights of ludicrousness. But as crazed and lawless as the action gets in either the real or imagined scenarios, or those that blur the two, it’s the underlying sweetness of The Trouble With You (the original French title En Liberte! roughly translates as “Unleashed”) that makes it so pleasurable.
Production company: Les Films Pelleas
Cast: Adele Haenel, Pio Marmai, Vincent Elbaz, Damien Bonnard, Audrey Tautou, Octave Bossuet, Hocine Choutri
Director: Pierre Salvadori
Screenwriters: Pierre Salvadori, Benoit Graffin, Benjamin Charbit
Producers: Philippe Martin, David Thion
Director of photography: Julien Poupard
Production designer: Michel Barthelemy
Costume designer: Virginie Montel
Music: Camille Bazbaz
Editors: Isabelle Devinck, Julie Lena, Geraldine Mangenot
Casting: Philippe Elkoubi
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)