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Film Review : A Very Discreet Hero
Un Héro Très Discret

by M. Fox

Paris:- Wednesday, 5. June1996:- Albert Dehousse finds real life unbearable and decides to re-create his own - the film presents part of Albert's life in biographical/documentary form,tracing his progress, and success, in becoming the hero of his own dreams; through stratagem, favorable circumstance and high-handed bluff.

unheros.jpg (16k) Mostly narrative, the film is interspersed with third-party interviews for realism and the occasional commentary from an older Albert Dehousse. The film is solid and well-organized; this perhaps due in part to its' being based on a novel. The camera work is suitably functional, straight-forward and fine; with the occasional creative 'aside' for fun or emphasis. The minimal musical score is original and excellent, but is heard only rarely; being used mostly to delineate the major parts of Albert's life. In general the acting was good, believable, and in the case of the three actors representing Albert during the different stages of his life, brilliant and charming. I found it to be an amusing, pleasant and thought-provoking film...
We get to know Albert as a boy of twelve growing up in a nondescript town in the north of France during the interval between the World Wars. He spends his spare time reading war stories and acting out what he has read, but is occasionally called out of his reveries by his mother for meals - meals alone with her and filled with lamenting and complaint over the loss of his 'hero' father to the first World War and her impoverished and lonely situation.

He soon finds out from a friend however that his father more likely died of liver disfunction from drinking, than as a hero on the battlefield. At dinner he confronts his mother with this new insight into his father's character. She reassures him, but he senses the truth, and looking up at the uniformed photograph of his father, sees him come back to life to give a slurred salute - young Albert passes out face-down in his soup.

We next see Albert as a young man of twenty-two who, being an only child and fatherless, is excluded from serving in the now-raging second World War. Timid, and still living at home with his mother, life becomes more exciting for him when he meets a girl who has come to his house for shelter during an air raid. When she asks what he does to occupy himself, Albert glibly tells her that he is writing a novel, and she is favorably impressed. He then tries unsuccessfully to write the novel, is soon frustrated in his attempt, and so, copies from another to read to her and her family.

Before long they marry and he goes to live with her family, but his mother is against the union. Life is even more exciting for him in this new setting. His father-in-law gets him a job and trains him as a door-to-door salesman in order to avoid his being sent off to Germany as a forced laborer. The war is mostly passing Albert by - with the exception of a brief view of the French Resistance in action, on a lonely side-road as he is pedalling his wares around the countryside on bicycle.

As the tide of the war begins to turn against the Germans, Albert finds out that his mother, his wife and her family have been concealing their participation in the resistance movement and he, not being able to bear their lack of trust and forlorn at the idea of continuing to live in this belittling atmosphere, decides to abandon them all and disappears without further notice.

Albert goes to Paris in December of 1944 and struggles to survive through hand-outs, without much success, until by chance he is helped out by 'the Captain'. The Captain looks after Albert and also passes on cynical advice and snips of stories about his own participation in the French Resistance.

Finding favor with another chance acquaintance, the influential 'Monsieur Joe', he is hired as a personal secretary and becomes familiar with the names and faces of many other influential people in the time just before the war ends.

Soon after the war is over, Monsieur Joe is arrested, having rendered service to all and sundry; the Gestapo, the Occupied French and the Resistance. The Captain is absent, so Albert once again finds himself alone and stranded in Paris but with enough money to survive for a few months.

During these next months, Albert develops a keen interest in joining the cozy ranks of the now-prominent Resistance heros. He furiously studies the newspapers, picks up jargon and gestures from over-heard conversations between the real heros, and works out the rough details of his fictional life as a lieutenant in the Resistance, so that one fine Spring day, he puts his plan of innocent deception into effect...

Albert is gradually, but surely, accepted amongst the heros - gaining a favorable reputation amongst them to the extent that he is soon invited to join the military administration overseeing the reorganization of France and French-occupied Germany. Further drawn into the inner-circle of this administration, he is offered and accepts an important post in Germany, and is simultaneously 'promoted' to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In Germany he continues to carry off his farce with great success and popularity.

He is thoroughly pleased with himself and his situation; living in a splendid mansion and even marrying again, until one day he is forced to decide over the lives of several Frenchmen found in German S.S. uniforms. This rather takes the fun out of his previously harmless game.

He admits his false identity and is sent to France for trial. His second wife, suspecting his duplicity from the start, and liking him for it, follows him back to Paris and there meets and befriends his first wife who has been searching for him since his original disappearance.

Wanting to avoid yet another post-war public scandal, the administration decides to try Albert for bigamy and sentences him to the maximum jail term of three years. The narrative ends at this point in his life. In final interviews, we learn that Albert later continues to successfully practice his philosophy that 'the best lives are those that we invent'.

Satirical Comedy, French, 1995, 105 minutes.

"Un Héro Très Discret" was directed by Jacques Audiard and based on the novel by Jean-François Deniau.

The role of Albert as a young man was played by Mathieu Kassovitz. The film also features Anouk Grinberg, Sandrine Kiberlain, Albert Dupontel, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Nadia Barentin, Bernard Bloch, François Chattot, Philippe Duclos and Danielle Lebrun. The music was by Alexandre Desplat.


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