London Film Festival 2011 Diary: Day 11

GUILTY [Présumé Coupable] (Vincent Garenq)

I thought that the moral panics about paedophile rings that seemed to pervade the United States in the 1980’s (see films like Capturing the Friedmans and the underseen Indictment: The McMartin Trial) had been confined to the states, and died out by the early 1990’s, turns out I was wrong. Guilty (a poor translation of the better French title Presumed Guilty) follows the true story of bailiff Alain Marécaux (Philippe Torreton), who was among fifteen people wrongly accused of being a member of a ring of abusive paedophiles in a case that apparently (rightly) scandalised the French legal system in the mid 2000’s.

Based on Marécaux’s memoir, Guilty focuses almost its entire running time on his hellish experience of years spent in prison on remand, and does so in unflinching, near documentary style, detail. Director Vincent Garenq wisely adopts an unflashy and unobtrusive style – which is not to say that the film has no visual identity, indeed it has a stark, spare, feel that works well – and opts to let the performances, particularly Torreton’s, do the talking.

Torreton, whose filmography is that of a dedicated character actor, is outstanding as Marécaux. For me, great acting isn’t something you’re aware of, indeed, it’s the very absence of an awareness of acting that marks a great performance for me. That’s what Torreton achieves here, I never felt like I was watching him act, rather that I was seeing Alain Marécaux slowly lose hope and fall apart as he had everything good in his life taken from him for no reason. It’s a detailed and committed performance, also marked by a physical transformation reminiscent of Michael Fassbender’s in Hunger, which makes Torreton appear hollowed out physically and mentally in the film’s last act. Most of the other performances match Torreton’s, though Raphaël Ferret, in a pivotal role as a judge, often lets his performance go a little over the top, given the scrupulous realism of the rest of the film.

Guilty is a sad and shocking film, filled with plot twists that you’d dismiss as unbelievable had someone made them up (something common to any film about cases like these), tightly constructed, with a brilliant leading performance, it’s definitely worth catching during the festival.
4 / 5


It is probably important to say at the outset that I don’t know the work of the bands Felt, Denim or Go Kart Mozart, all fronted by the single named Lawrence, the subject, if perhaps not the hero, of Paul Kelly’s documentary. Lawrence seems to have been in snatching distance of real success as a musician, but the film sees him living in a council flat, on the dole, on methadone, and attempting to record the Go Kart Mozart album by asking favours of rich friends. It shows him as something of a shambling mess, but a very entertaining one.

Lawrence is, in conversation, highly entertaining, and that’s what saves the film, because Go Kart Mozart are (to my ears anyway), as shitty as their name is cool. In his reedy voice, Lawrence reels off things that are hilariously pompous, deeply sad, and sometimes rather insightful (he got a big laugh from assembled critics when a music writer told him he made no money from writing online, prompting the response ‘I knew the internet was shit’). His desire to be famous, at all costs, juxtaposed with his actual existence is both comical and sad. He’s a tough man to like (in fact he comes across as abit of a dick), but an easy man to watch.

The singular focus of the film sometimes works to its disadvantage. I wish Kelly had been more willing to pry and to prod, to help us understand Lawrence, and that he had addressed things like his drug addiction and how the hell he funds recording his album while on the dole. That said, he lays Lawrence’s self deluding persona pretty bare here, without feeling like he has manipulated it from his subject, and the film is never less than interesting. It’s a shame it’s a touch shallow, and it loses points from me for the lack of decent tunes, but clearly you may have a different take on that.
3.5 / 5

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