Directed by Raoul Ruiz. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Nils Hugon, Jeanne Balibar and Charles Berling.

Based on an updated treatment of the Massimo Bontempelli novel, 'The Boy With Two Mothers', 'Comedy of Innocence' takes as its starting point the birthday of a nine-year-old boy living in Paris. After a screening of images captured with the video camera given to him a year previously, the child, Camille (Hugon), expresses a reluctance to show the assorted clips to his uncle (Berling), a late arrival at the somewhat staid, and noticeably child-free, birthday celebrations.

From the outset, a tone of uneasy calm is established, which becomes more menacing as the narrative progresses. With the depiction of the rest of the afternoon, the portrait of a bourgeois, nuclear family, centred around the seemingly detached mother (Huppert, cast to type), is drawn with impressive economy. The plot kicks into gear when the child, feeling slighted by the preoccupied adults on his big day, subsequently demands to be taken to see his 'real' mother.

At the centre of the film is an ambiguous representation of childhood. Oscillating between depictions of Camille as the victim of an indifferent environment and as a calculating manipulator, Ruiz skilfully charts the disruption of the family unit, undoubtedly already flawed in spite of careful appearances.

Once the other woman of the piece (Balibar) is introduced into the mix, elements of commentary on human relationships and the notion of maternity begin to come to the fore. With the self-conscious use of a strangled pace and frequent long shots of meaningful glances, the disturbing undercurrents of an increasingly bizarre situation are revealed. Each character's personal agenda becomes more explicit as the film plays with subjective perceptions of reality.

Despite the comedy of the title, this is an increasingly creepy, claustrophobic psychological drama about a mother attempting to understand her young son's disturbing claims which are unnervingly supported by a strange woman. There are good, if sometimes mannered, performances throughout in what is an interesting exploration of ideas leading to an outcome that is either fantastical or prosaic, depending on interpretation. Not the most absorbing of tales, but relatively intriguing all the same.

Siobhán Mannion