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Trial by Error

Guilty (2011)

Jean-Claude Lother/Mars Distribution

Vincent Garenq’s “Guilty” is signposted in its exposition as a faithful adaptation of a series of memoirs entitled “Miscarriage of Justice” by Alain Marécaux. Mr. Marécaux (a remarkable Philippe Torreton), a family man who is too often distracted by his job as a bailiff, is left shattered when he and his wife are arrested in the middle of the night on suspicion of involvement in what would come to be known as the notorious Outreau pedophile ring.

The accusations leveled at Mr. Marécaux seem incredible and baseless, yet in an instant his life begins to disintegrate around him. As it transpires, the Marécauxes have been accused of the worst sort of infidelity by persons unknown; and yet despite the lack of evidence or motive, they are remanded in custody.

Mr. Garenq’s intensely personal directorial style means we barely leave Mr. Marécaux’s side from here on in, as his absolute denial of guilt is consistently and unbelievably ignored. Mr. Garenq raises significant questions about the grossly unfair and flawed French legal system that — in this case at least — presumes guilt when it should presume innocence.

In fact, Mr. Marécaux’s case is so marred by inadequate, cowboy policing and conflicting witness testimony that one assumes that sooner or later he would taste freedom. Yet as appeals are rejected and a trial date remains elusive, Mr. Marécaux begins to crumble. It’s incredibly emotive and galling to witness a proud man fall apart, lurching as he does into ever deeper pits of despair.

It’s desperate stuff; and Mr. Garenq never once lightens the oppressive tone, as glimmers of hope give way to yet another stumbling block or setback. It’s essentially a deeply depressing indictment of legal injustice, made all the more enthralling and outrageous given the verity of the source material.

Mr. Garenq’s direction is tight and accomplished, drawing the audience into Mr. Marécaux’s embattled mind. But the real success of “Guilty” lies with Mr. Torreton, who delivers a hard-hitting and anguished performance as the tormented Mr. Marécaux — effectively capturing his increasing desperation as he becomes rapidly enveloped in a claustrophobic nightmare. It’s a gripping, engaging and masterful piece of acting in an important and powerful piece of filmmaking.


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