Review, Un héros très discret, Institut Francais
Screened on ‘a rare 35mm print’, I watched A Self-Made Hero (Un héros très discret, 1996) as part of the Ciné Lumière’s current Jacques Audiard Retrospective.
The series, which aims to showcase the work of one of France’s most gifted filmmakers, has already shown See How They Fall and Read My Lips, and will run until the end of the month. It will conclude with a special screening of Dheepan, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year.
Taking place during post-war France, A Self-Made Hero traces the trials and tribulations of Albert Dehousse, played by Mathieu Kassovitz (aka Nino in the cult hit Amélie and director of La Haine).
A bit of a romantic, the protagonist is unhappy with his current state of affairs; trapped in a rural town, he has skipped military service (seemingly due to the fact he lost his father during the war, leaving his mother a war widow), and is consequently left with no physical outlet.
Dehousse is able to cope with this soulless, solitary life until it dawns on him that his parents may not have been the people he was led to believe.
And so, unhappy with the cards life has dealt him, he draws on the only skills he has – a vivid imagination, impressive memory and chameleonic social skills – and decides to become the author of his own destiny.
From small-town boy to Resistance ‘hero’, with nerves of steel Dehousse abandons his former life and constructs a new identity that lives up to the one he has always dreamed of.
However, as fact and fiction lose their meaning and a new version of truth is created, this self-made hero finds himself trapped between an outwardly perfect present and alarmingly unsustainable future.
What I liked most about the film was its ability to demonstrate the perspective of both Dehousse during this time– desperate, ambitious, and frustrated – and those around him – impressed, perplexed, suspicious. The story is both tragic and amusing, thus managing to elicit the right amount of emotion and engagement from the viewer.
In terms of structure, the story is interspersed with short montages of interviews seemingly conducted decades later, where many of the film’s characters – including Dehousse (played by film veteran Jean-Louis Trintignant) – comment on the protagonist’s unorthodox story.
Based on a novel by Jean-François Deniau, this psychological, kooky French satire is definitely thought-provoking on both a personal and political level, reinforcing the timeless truth that things are never really as they seem.