Reviewed by GREG KING
Stars:Matthieu Kassovitch, Nadia Barentin, Sandrine Kiberlain, Anouk Grinberg, Albert Dupontel, Jean-Louis Trintignant
Running Time:105 minutes
In any war, the first casualty is always the truth! And so it seems with this wry and cynical comic drama from France that offers a wonderfully subversive and ironic comment on the myth of the heroic French war effort and noble Resistance movement during W.W.II. This very cleverly written and subtle black comedy from acclaimed writer/director Jacques Audiard (See How They Fall) also questions the merits of revisionist histories and vainglorious attempts to rewrite history purely for personal gain.
Better known outside France as a director of powerful dramas such as La Haine, young Matthieu Kassovitch (in his second collaboration with Audiard) proves himself quite an intelligent and perceptive actor with his performance here. As Albert Dehousse, an anonymous Frenchman who elevates himself to the position of French war hero and leader of the Resistance movement, Kassovitch is on screen for the entire film, and he delivers a quite perceptive and intelligent performance that provides the film with its strong central focus. He initially gains some sympathy for his hero who, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Little Big Man, creates his own epic version of recent history that is soon accepted as fact.
At an early age, young Albert was a lonely child who always fascinated by imaginary worlds of adventure and acts of heroism, fuelled by his passion for reading. Albert learns that the father he had always regarded as a war hero who died gloriously in battle was, in fact, a pathetic drunk who eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver. Inspired by this early realisation of the power of lies to deflect from a greater and often more painful truth, the naive and innocent young Albert soon hits on a strategy that will shape his future life. War inevitably comes to France again in 1940, but Albert misses out on being called up to fight for his country because he is the only living son of a war widow, and he impatiently waits out the war in his small provincial village.
Albert’s first big lie in life comes when he informs the beautiful Yvette (Sandrine Kiberlain) that he is a novelist, although the only stories he creates are copied from another book. Albert is also a rather naive chap who is oblivious to the fact that his pretty wife’s family is heavily involved in the resistance movement, sheltering British pilots from the Germans. But once France is liberated by the Allies in 1944, Albert jumps on a train and heads for Paris, where he quickly joins in the victorious liberation celebrations.
Chameleon like, Albert absorbs other peoples’ experiences and anecdotes and adapts them as his own while he painstakingly establishes himself as a legendary war hero and leader of the resistance. His credentials and history remain unchallenged, and eventually he rises through the ranks of the post war administration to find himself in charge of a special detail charged with the responsibility of weeding out fleeing former Nazis from the flood of genuine refugees. Eventually though his conscience gets the better of him and he confesses his deception.
Audiard directs the audacious material with assurance and style and gives A Self Made Hero an almost documentary feel by having many fictional war heroes and former soldiers recount their memories of Albert’s valuable contributions to the war effort for the camera. Audiard further blurs the fine line between reality and the fiction of the film with fleeting glimpses of the orchestra that provides the stirring and haunting background music score interspersed at intervals throughout the narrative.
Audiard establishes an easy rapport with his actors, drawing solid and credible performances from a strong cast. Veteran actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (Three Colours – Red, etc) bookends the tale with a brief appearance as the elderly Albert who reminisces on his successful ruse and its consequences. Nadia Barentin plays three roles here as various women who all teach Albert about life and love and further his grand deception, while Anouk Grinberg plays the beautiful Servane, a real life heroine and Resistance fighter with whom he falls in love.