A SELF MADE HERO (Un Hero Tres Discrete)
DIRECTOR: JACQUES AUDIARD
COUNTRY: FRANCE 1996
CINEMATOGRAPHY: JEAN-MARC FABRE
MUSIC: ALEXANDRE DESPLAT
CAST: Mathieu Kassovitz, Anouk Grinberg, Sandrine Kiberlain, Albert Dupontel, Francois Berleand, Daniele Lebrun, Jean-Louis Trintignant.
SUPER FEATURES: Great story telling.
The French have a knack for unusual stories. This one is another one of those. And, while its subject matter is serious in many ways, at
a bad time in their history, somehow they manage to get some humor and inteligence added to it, and we end up enjoying it. Such is
French film. It can be dark comedy, and often this is vicious and vitriolic that it renders the work rather obtuse and left behind.
Or it may be a comedy making fun of comedies, in which case the humor often comes off as obscure and no one understands it.
This film could easily fit anywhere between comedy and tragedy. Somewhere, in the middle are the films that try to tell stories about France's involvement in WWII, which often is considered a non-involvement, in hope of preventing itself from being totally destroyed by the Germans, or anyone else. To help with these efforts, the French organized "La Resistance" which co-operated with the western anything for a long period of time. The question is, the film brings about by accident, where does it start and end? But the obvious reason for it is clear. Survival of the fittest and the cleverest, if not for themselves, at least for their families.
Albert Dehousse has an advantage over some people. He does his homework, and rehearses his act, and prepares himself for many eventualities, which is not quite the case in others examples. We are learning by the various interviews in the film, that there were many people that lived this kind of life, and that enjoyed some success in these things. Some were not so obvious, but others were pretty obvious. But Albert's case, if not any different from any one else, shows that he has the gift of staying cool under fire, and eventually finds himself working for the French resistance, in the later stages of the war, when their greatest job was to flush out those who had defected to the German side. He does very well in this job, because he has the steel nerves of any superior officer, at least on the outside, and displays the inteligence and efficiency that brings about some respect and support within his own ranks, where many are upset that this outsider, with no visible record has passed them all for a post. One day, though, he has to perform the ugly duty of ordering the killing of his own country men, who have been caught in German uniforms. And this sets about his "resignation" from his post, and admittance that he was a fake. The French authorities are
embarrassed, but realized the amount of work this man apparently has done for them, and decide to let him go.
But another impropriety, the smaller one he overlooked, is the one that lands him in jail. He had married before he disappeared in the middle of the war. And in Baden-Baden, he married again. And a judge saw fit to throw him in jail for three years.... of all things.
While the film, not any kind of spectacular production per se, is fascinating, as a study of the times in France, it also shows how confusing the whole thing was. And this combination, can be frightening for the simple minded film goer that is not used to thinking ahead, or suspending any belief long enough to find their way out of any situation. The dialogue in this film is critical and it is magnificently written and designed to display what it has taken for these people to survive. Cunning, clever, answers, vague, and reversed, the actual answer is never given, and this seems to be a slightly intellectual attitude that many French love to take in the sidewalk cafes, and evening discussions. But it works, for them, and they were capable of using it for their own survival.
This is a very good film. It is very talky, and dependant on the quality of the translation of the sub-titles, because there are nuances in the wording of it that change the meanings all around. These are difficult for foreign audiences, and yet, even with the subtitles, this makes it through. But, nevertheless, it makes for an ok exercise, because likewise the characters, in the film, who are being "swindled" by the changing of the truth and the reversal of the questions, so is the audience. We are watching something, that we do not know how to take at all.... except as another story, being told in retrospect, by an elder Dehousse (Trintignant), with some interviews by many people who may have been around at the time as public figures of some sort. The film tries to use some of the "facts" from these findings, but they are shady at best.
So people like Albert Dehousse, survived, and even did their duty for the country in a bad time. Whether they were part of the Resistance or not, if this film is any indication, one could say that Albert was. This had been one of the most important questions, since it became the definition of a hero, or not. But, the whole thing does not take away from the fact that Dehousse could make up stories based on truth and whatnot. What made his special, is that he took the hint from a writer in the beginning, he borrows the story and then "blends" in. In many cases, in one that helped him display his ability to command, was one that pretty much summarized where many failed. A group of people, all
memorized the same story. And Dehousse realizes that it is a story, and arrests these people, because the same story was in a magazine that they all read, right in front of them. And Dehousse, takes his cue, and immediately adds the support of someone under his command, as a way to distract the obvious attention on him, as a person that did not deserve the post in the first place. As it turns out, the French authorities, probably had the right man at the post, because all the others were fighting each other for points and superior-manship, which at times, seems to have undermined their own work.
With some very good acting by Mathieu Kassovitz, and a very good supporting cast, this film does in a small amount of time, what most films really can not do. It tells a story and then some.
Very good film, with some very entertaining exchanges, and stories. It is also, a look at a very peculiar time in France's history.
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