Kinepolis Film Distribution (KFD) | Release Date: May 4, 2018
Mixed or average reviews based on 5 Ratings
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Bertaut1Aug 12, 2018
This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. What a shambles

Le Fidèle [lit. trans. The Faithful] is an absolute mess, and one of the most egregious examples I've ever encountered of a narrative systematically undermining and imploding in on top of itself, unable to bear the weight of a litany of clichés and melodrama. The incongruity between the first 90 or so minutes of Fidèle and the last half-hour is truly bizarre, as the script inexplicably morphs from a heist movie into a pseudo disease-of-the-week based tearjerker wholly convinced of its own profundity.

Written by Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré, and Michaël R. Roskam, and directed by Roskam, Fidèle chugs along nicely at first - a little overwrought, but well put together and enjoyable enough. It's a fairly familiar story; essentially, will the love of a good woman save the recidivist criminal with a heart of gold? Gino "Gigi" Vanoirbeek (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a thief masquerading as a car salesman. Bénédicte "Bibi" Delhany (Adèle Exarchopoulos) works for her father (Eric De Staercke) at his construction company, but spends her free time on the race track. They are introduced by her brother Bernard (Thomas Coumans), who doesn't know what Gigi really does, and they quickly fall in love. However, as time goes by, Gigi finds it increasingly difficult to keep the truth of what he does away from a suspicious Bibi.

This plot summary takes us through the first act and into the second. And then the bottom falls out, as the screenplay makes one of the most bizarre about-turns I've ever seen. However, it's not only the fact that the film has an identity crisis and morphs into something completely different. One might forgive that if that something different was well written. As a heist movie, Fidèle works pretty well, but as a tearjerker, it's horrendous. For starters, Roskam tries to cram far too much into a short space of time. The last half hour of the film jumps all over the place from Bibi's dad being blackmailed to Gigi's recidivism catching up with him to trouble conceiving a child to ovarian cancer to chemotherapy to mysterious Albanians who can't be trusted to a dogfighting ring. And with Bibi on the brink of death, when Gigi arrives in the hospital to see her, she's already slipped into a coma. So they never get to say goodbye. Then he gets beaten up. Twice.

Roskam handles all of this with a spectacularly misguided solemnity that ends up manifesting itself as nothing other than mawkishness. He just keeps on piling melodrama on top of cliché on top of angst. The audience at the screening I attended actually started laughing as the characters experienced misfortune after misfortune after misfortune. It just never ends, and, most unforgivingly, the suffering has absolutely no cathartic effect whatsoever, it just exists in a vacuum of its own making; there's no moral component, no sense in which any of the characters come out the other side having learnt something, and the audience itself certainly doesn't experience any kind of emotional purification, any sense in which their pity or fear has been engaged or purged.

And what's especially frustrating is that the film's individual components are well put together. The acting is strong (it would be almost unwatchable were the acting anything less than exemplary), and Roskam's direction is predictably solid (the aesthetic centrepiece is a brilliantly staged three or four minute single take shot of a complex heist on a motorway). Hell, even the end of the film, the final sequence as Gigi drives across the city, is brilliantly shot, and the revelation that an earlier conversation with Bibi continued after he joked that he was a bank robber really caught me by surprise. And the last line is superb (it's also more emotive than all the melodrama in the preceding half hour).

However, although the destination is pretty satisfying, how we have gotten there is so ludicrous that it renders any sense of accomplishment null and void. It's just a shame, because although, in an isolated sense, most of the film is well done, the totality is a disaster. A huge disappointment from a director who only seven years ago showed all the promise in the world.
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