Joan Chemla’s If You Saw His Heart begins with a rather sprawling, complex opening act, deliberately disorientating, as the viewer is tasked with piecing this narrative together. Yet as we progress towards the latter stages it becomes increasingly obvious that there’s not really anything to piece together, as a film that promises so much and yet delivers so little.

Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Daniel; a petty crook making ends meet in a society of travellers that live in the shadows of the bustling city of Marseille. Alongside his dear friend Costel (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), who Daniel has lured into this life of crime which ultimately led to the latter’s untimely death, he’s now on the run, with Costel’s hot-headed, older brother on his tail. Daniel winds up at a derelict hotel, which is where he meets a beautiful stranger Francine (Marine Vacth), and while she appears to be just as lost in this brutal underworld as he is, this elusive stranger may just prove to be the very person able to claw him back out of it.

If You Saw His HeartChemla’s stylistic endeavour is presented through a unique narrative structure, told in an intriguing, if somewhat convoluted and fragmented way. What transpires is a film lacking in substance, albeit an evocative production that comes complete with an indelible tone, and disturbing aesthetic, born out of the mind of a filmmaker certainly not adverse to take risks. Though in doing so, perhaps Chemla should have fixated more so on the character development, as while there’s always room for movies of this creative nature, she seems to have forgotten about a rather important ingredient; the story, which appears to have been sacrificed for a stylistic fervour, that while certainly resourceful, is missing a palpable plot, and more important, any sense of emotional engagement.

Thankfully, however, Bernal shines in the leading role, as an actor complete with such an intangible, yet absorbing screen presence. He’s complimented by a stranger at Costel’s wedding at the start on his eyes – only for the groom to respond with, ‘if you saw his heart’ – a predicable, contrived means of enforcing the title into the dialogue, and yet it rings somewhat true, for where this actor is concerned, when he performs, both his eyes and his heart are equally as beguiling, as he prevents this flawed production from falling into obscurity, just about keeping it ahead above water, and the viewer just about invested. Just.