Comedy of Innocence (2000) / Drama-Thriller
aka Comedie de L'Innocence
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some adult themes
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Nils Hugon, Jeanne Balibar, Charles Berling, Edith Scob, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Director: Raoul Ruiz
Screenplay: Francois Dumas, Raoul Ruiz (based on the novel, "The Boy with Two Mothers", by Massimo Bontempelli)
Review published January 9, 2005
There is little that's funny in the film entitled, Comedy of Innocence. In fact, it's rather dreary business, directed in a mostly somber fashion, with a tragedy serving as the backdrop for the strange set of circumstances that drives the story. Chilean director Raoul Ruiz (Shattered Image) has spent a good part of his career creating films about fractured identities and personalities, so it's easy to see what possessed him to find the novel by Massimo Bontempelli worthy of making into a feature film. It is a rather interesting plot, and could make a terrific episode of "The Twilight Zone", but as directed by Ruiz, Comedy of Innocence is a slow, ponderous thriller that takes so long to develop, it can only really be called a drama with minor thriller elements.
It's Camille's ninth birthday, and one in which the young boy begins displaying some extremely odd behavior, murmuring things about wanting to return to his "real home" to be with his "real mother", which is certainly not something Camille's real mother, Ariane (Huppert, The Piano Teacher), wants to hear. Camille seems adamant about it, so Ariane indulges him in going to this other "home", and soon discovers that it is the residence of Isabella (Balibar, Va Savoir), a woman who lost her boy in a drowning accident at the same age. From the moment they meet, it is apparent that Camille and Isabella have a mother/son bond, and that bond no longer exists with his biological mother, Ariane. Is everyone cracking up, or is something Camille actually the embodiment of Isabella's long lost son?
Perhaps in the hands of a director like Alfred Hitchcock, the events of Comedy of Innocence might have proved to be an absorbing thriller, as it does feature some nifty, subtle twists that keep you wondering which way the film will turn up in the end. Unfortunately, this is far from a thrill-ride, with Ruiz instead injecting some fairly heavy symbolism, from the statue with two heads, to the large painting of biblical king Solomon's famous judgment regarding the plight of a boy claimed by two mothers.
Played out as a suspense vehicle, or even a comedy, this tale might have had a chance to work far better, but as a drama, the lack of plausibility begins to weigh in too heavily, as taking things as realistic doesn't jibe with the rather Stoic acting of Huppert (a good actress, miscast here) and the somewhat less-than-stunned demeanor of most of the rest of the characters to this incredibly bizarre set of events. I would think (or hope) that most women would scream bloody murder at the fact that her son has disowned her right to motherhood and now is extending all of his love to a complete stranger.
Too much disconnect for a story that involves love, loss and despair, making Comedy of Innocence an interesting premise that never finds the right foothold to carry the load of its high ambitions. Momentarily interesting, but the sloth-like delivery crawls toward the finish line where it should have been a nail-biter.
©2016 Vince Leo