One of the more consistently interesting young(ish) actors working in international cinema, Louis Garrel has also spent the last decade working at a less interesting directing career which, so far, has mostly resulted in films indistinguishable from his father’s contemporary pictures (2015’s Les Deux Amis the most egregious permutation of this homage/mimicry). But as the senior Garrel passively sinks deeper into self-parody with each new picture, Louis’ films have begun to consciously embrace this angle, still working within similar narrative frameworks, but with a nimbler sense of self-deprecating humor. His 2018 feature, A Faithful Man, while not totally free of the Garrelian tendency towards male chauvinism, was at least a spry, funny film (something that his work had thusly evaded), qualities his latest film, The Crusade, embraces more fully and with lively results.
A sort of sequel to A Faithful Man, and once again co-scripted by Garrel with the late Jean-Claude Carrière (quite possibly his final screenwriting credit), The Crusade is written in the mold of the social satire for which the latter writer was best known. Veering away from the romantic melodrama of the first film, this one returns its focus to bourgeois couple, Abel and Marianne (Laetitia Casta and Louis once again), and their 13-year-old son Joseph (Joseph Engel, also returning from the previous film), who has since become an integral member of an international coalition of ethnically diverse teenagers, having aligned with the mission of solving Africa’s water crisis. An immediately more exciting narrative than what Garrel and Carrière previously cooked up together, The Crusade also benefits from tight scripting, taking its time to reveal its full scope, beginning with mundane conflict that quickly erupts into massive philosophical turmoil on a global scale. Seemingly inspired by Greta Thunberg (one of the characters literally watches her U.N. speech), Joseph and his young comrades decide to take direct action to resolve the threat of climate change and resulting resource scarcities, funding their project by selling off the frivolous excesses of their parents’ wealth (i.e. artwork, jewelry). Initially irate (Garrel and Casta are immediately hilarious, shrieking about vintage Dior and rare book appraisals) the couple is soon split on how best to proceed: Marianne is empathetic to the cause and impressed by their son’s initiative, while Abel resorts to defensiveness, championing the status quo. Garrel’s commitment to his character’s heel turn is commendable (and better still, quite funny), gleefully performing a gauche conservatism contrary to the leftist idealism of his character in 2005’s Regular Lovers, where he acted as a sort of analog for his father circa May ’68. It’s worth considering The Crusade in relation to that film’s depiction of a political youth movement and the larger Garrel cinematic legacy: In contrast to the previous film, this one addresses the present directly, which suggests a complacency in Garrel’s generation that must be corrected for by those now coming of age.
The Crusade isn’t without its flaws: the notion of a bunch of French entangling themselves in the business of various African Governments is obviously a dubious one (some expository dialogue about government approval clearly written to sidestep this issue notwithstanding), and there’s a romanticism to the proceedings akin to that of Regular Lovers, albeit scaled down to being age appropriate for this 13-17 age group (plays like Moonrise Kingdom, very uncomfortable, very French). These are signs that Garrel hasn’t completely transcended his dumber macho instincts — and to be honest, it’s hard to imagine those will ever entirely vanish from his work — but The Crusade’s screenplay tips its scales in favor of humility and generosity, and its 67 minute runtime keeping the action moving at a steady clip. Surprising and meaningfully engaged with the contemporary, this really might indicate the start of a significant new phase for Louis Garrel as filmmaker.
Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 4.