One rarely sees the words “faithfully adapted” onscreen, but the true events depicted in French pic “Guilty,” based on a nonfiction book written by the protag, are so harrowing that no addition of fictional elements could have made it any more dramatic. Story of a provincial bailiff imprisoned for pedophilia, though evidence is either nonexistent or contradictory, is a stomach-churning thriller-drama hybrid in which scribe-helmer Vincent Garenq dissects one of Gaul’s most famous miscarriages of justice with chilling precision. Local Sept. 7 release should screen extensively in Europe; Stateside, remake potential could also interest buyers.
The film’s English-language title is a misnomer, because it lacks the qualifier of the original, which translates as “Presumed Guilty.” This is exactly what befell Alain Marecaux (Philippe Torreton), a hard-working family man who’s taken from his bed by police one night (in 2001, though this is not specified) together with his wife, Edith (Noemie Lvovsky). Both are accused of being part of a ring of child molesters in Northern France and neighboring Belgium and are locked away, while their three young children are placed in foster homes.
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Alain and Edith are separated as soon as they are arrested. Because Garenq sticks close to Alain’s p.o.v., Edith and the children are rarely seen thereafter. Husband and wife and more than a dozen others were accused by Mrs. Badaoui (Farida Ouchani), who said she herself was guilty as well. But the Marecauxs had never even heard of the woman.
Though he insists on his innocence from the start, Alain is treated by law enforcers as scum. His sympathetic lawyer (Wladimir Yordanoff), who Alain finally gets to see after a first grueling round of interrogation, says he’s better off not telling his fellow inmates what crime he’s accused of, though at least in this tale, the men with whom he shares his crowded cell prove more civilized than the authorities.
The rookie magistrate (Raphael Ferret) charged with running the investigation either doesn’t seem to notice contradictions between testimonies or dismisses obvious errors pointed out by Marecaux and his lawyer, using the excuse that in so doing, he’s protecting children.
Working from Marecaux’s own detailed account of his hellish journey (he was also a screenplay advisor), Garenq wisely keeps any clear indication of the passage of time offscreen, so that what unfolds feels like a terrible nightmare without end — and in reality lasted almost two years.
The weight of the accusations alone are enough for Marecaux to be forced to sell his business and the family home. He hears that his wife, who is released earlier, has taken up with another man and that his eldest son has tried to commit suicide. Stuck in legal limbo with no one willing to listen to him except his lawyer, Marecaux finally starts a hunger strike — after his own failed suicide attempt — to try to attract the attention of those higher up on the judiciary ladder.
Torreton, in a fearlessly committed perf, goes all the way, suggesting Marecaux’s decency, outrage, hopelessness and finally, mental breakdown as the lack of food wracks not only his body but also his brain. Ferret, expertly cast for his innocent and youthful looks, is chilling as the bumbling magistrate, while Ouchani, with her vacuous eyes, is equally terrifying as the cornered woman who caused all the trouble.
Technically, the pic is impressively drab, further augmenting the claustrophobic and generally spine-chilling atmosphere.