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Set in France at the end of World War II Albert Dehousse finds out his father wasn't a war hero and his mother is a collaborator. He leaves his wife and goes to Paris. Gradually he inveigles himself with the resistance movement. They trust him and he helps them trace collaborators. Written by
David Morgans <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"The best lives are invented ones. I forget who said that. Perhaps it was me." Thus claims Jean-Louis Trintignant in one of the brief modern-day 'interviews' in Jacques Audiard's wryly amusing and constantly engaging Un Heros Tres Discret/A Self-Made Hero.
The main body of the film follows Matthieu Kassovitz's Albert Dehousse, Trintignant's younger self, an innocuous underachiever dreaming of heroic acts he never gets the chance to carry out who is devastated when he discovers his wife and new family have hidden their resistance work from him and denied him his chance to be a real hero. Betrayed, adrift and penniless in a newly-liberated Paris, he learns to take advantage of a moment in history when anything is suddenly possible and, thanks to fortuitous friendships with genuine hero Captain Dionnet (Albert Dupontel) and well-connected collaborator Monsieur Jo (Francois Berléand), reinvents himself as a self-effacing hero with just enough inside knowledge to get by. He gets himself photographed in the crowd at war crimes trials, gradually inveigling his way into newsreels with real veterans and even makes capital out of the fact that many of his comrades have no idea who he is by amiably telling them they clearly don't remember him and shouldn't embarrass themselves by pretending, shaming them into 'remembering' him and allowing him into their inner circle. An honest liar who knows how to listen and to sell the stories of others as his own, often to the very person he overheard it from, he rarely lies but rather omits, leaving his audience to fill in the gaps, just as he never asks for anything but simply takes what is offered because of who his audience has convinced themselves he is.
Not that he's the only one reinventing himself the whole nation is as it tries to reclaim its dignity from the shame of Occupation and collaboration, with heroes and tycoons becoming villains overnight and new heroes coming out of nowhere to replace them. At such a time and in such a context, he's more a symptom of a country that wants to believe in itself again and so will consequently believe almost anything. To one degree or another, everyone in the film lies and reinvents themselves even the aged resistants rewrite their friendship into distrust for the benefit of the modern-day cameras in light of subsequent events while others choose to believe the lie and even embellish it. In many ways the consummate actor demonstrates what an asset to the resistance movement he would have been as he effortlessly infiltrates the past to invent the person he wanted to be, and his inside track on the mechanics of deception actually makes him far more ideal for his job rooting out collaborators than those who really did fight.
Occasionally including modern-day interviews with fictional veterans and, at one point, a character talking to camera about his life of disappointment and eventual pointless death, despite the variety of stylistic devices it's a remarkably cohesive and controlled film, putting its various techniques at the service of the story rather than drawing attention to themselves. More than that, it's also very entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny, never falling into caricature despite brief moments of surrealism, and a striking well-observed comedy on the foibles of human nature worthy of Billy Wilder that more than amply repays a second viewing.
Optimum's recent UK PAL DVD offers a good transfer, though irritatingly the subtitles are not widescreen friendly (not too much of a problem as the film is only 1.77:1 but still a lazy oversight) and includes some better than usual on-set interviews with the director, cast and the author of the novel Jean-Francois Deniau, who throws some light on the real life figures (and there were plenty of Albert Dehousses in post-war France it seems) that inspired the film.
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