SELF-MADE HERO, ANR
Jacques Audiard's A Self-Made Hero, set mostly in post-war France, chronicles the life of a charming imposter, Albert Dehousse (Mathieu Kassovitz) who passes himself off as a former member of the French Resistance. In this documentary-style, fictional account, Albert's escapades are interspersed with present-day 'interviews' of people who knew him or who are researching his life. That life is the vehicle for Audiard's scathing commentary on the Vichy government and the Gaullists and others who glorified the French Resistance-praise the filmmaker believes to be spurious. Audaird's hero resembles Chance, the protagonist played by Peter Sellers in Hal Ashby's Being There. He's a blank slate, and A Self-Made Hero, like Being There, is a movie built around a character with no discernable motivation. This kind of political satire holds up in a novel, but it can't quite sustain a narrative film because, clever as the commentary may be, you simply don't care what happens to the protagonist.
A Self-Made Hero begins when Albert is a boy. Not a very bright child, Albert nonetheless enjoys an active fantasy life, pretending he's a spy or a hero like his father-that is, until he finds out that his father wasn't a hero at all. Although Albert's mother claims her husband died fighting for France in World War I, a classmate tells Albert that his father succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. Mrs. Dehousse finally gets her widow's pension, and Albert gets his first lesson in successful deception. Not surprisingly, Albert goes on to woo Yvette (Sandrine Kiberlain), who later becomes his wife, by pretending to be a novelist. Yvette in turn betrays Albert-at least it seems that way to Albert-when after the liberation of France she confesses that she was a member of the Resistance. Albert goes on to meet men who provide even better role models than his mother and Yvette for his budding career as an imposter. The captain (Albert Dupontel), for instance, a former member of the Resistance, appears to be the dashing hero of Albert's boyhood fantasies. However, he turns out to be an opportunist and a homosexual. Nonetheless, Albert takes his advice and invents a life for himself.
Since this is a Frenchman's view of France's greatest shame-its collaboration with the Nazis-A Self-Made Hero appears somewhat provincial. It will be difficult for American audiences to remember these events which took place over 50 years ago in a country that, despite its considerable artistic heritage, now practices almost unrivaled cultural and political isolationism. A script (co-written by the director and Alain LeHenry) with a delightfully sly take on French 'heroes,' A Self-Made Hero is flawed by the fact that underneath Albert's banal exterior there beats the heart of a cowardly, feckless and uninteresting little boy. There's no hating or loving Albert. After he's caught posing as a member of the Resistance, Albert has a brief moment of remorse, but we learn from the 'closing' interviews that he lives his entire life as an imposter. No doubt men like Albert are reprehensible and the networks of power are corrupt, but, unlike effective political satire, A Self-Made Hero fails to provide the high moral ground from which the audience can judge Audiard's subjects.
The film has some wonderful moments, like the ones in which Albert 'practices' his roles and, while still rehearsing to become a former Resistance fighter, is asked his opinion of several high-ranking officials who are competing for a government post. Because the film pokes fun at bureaucrats and at hierarchies in general, the characters in A Self-Made Hero are likely to remind you of a few people you know and despise. Excellent performances from the entire cast, combined with Audiard's delightful visual sensibilities and his extraordinary editing, make the film a joy to watch-if you're not bothered by the fact that it's a satire with no moral center.