A Self-Made Hero (1996)

“The best lives are invented.”

The French film, A Self-Made Hero is the story of Albert Dehousse (Mathieu Kassovitz)–a man who uses the unique circumstances of WWII to completely recreate himself into the sort of man he thinks he wants to be. Albert grows up as the only child of a ‘war widow’ who’s fighting to get a pension from the government. The truth, however, isn’t quite so noble. Albert’s father didn’t die as a result of war wounds–he was a drunk who died of cirrhosis of the liver. But the truth doesn’t stop Albert’s mother from spinning a tragic fantasy, and Albert grows up heavily influenced by the knowledge that one can create one’s own personal mythology.

At first, Albert’s make-believe life seems harmless and normal. He spends hours alone in his room, play-acting conversations in which he is always the noble hero. Albert moves onto plagiarizing to impress others, and gradually just who Albert is becomes obscured and subsumed by who he wants to be. By the time WWII finds its way to Albert’s village, he is an adult. He’s a bystander–an observer of the Resistance, and while others save downed pilots, and ambush Germans, Albert watches and envies their courage and bold actions.

Habouring a sense of shame at his lack of involvement, Albert ditches his life and runs off to Paris. Here, he meets and befriends an enigmatic French captain. Albert is captivated by the Captain’s marvelous stories, and he absorbs all the details. The Captain notes that they are living in an incredible time, “Great things like this happen once in a century–losers posing as winners, cowards as heroes, and devils as saints.” Soon circumstances favour Albert, and he becomes a depository of information regarding the Resistance. As the political situation changes in France, Albert takes advantage of his encyclopedic knowledge, and he is incorporated into the new system.

A Self-Made Hero is a remarkably clever, subtle film from director Jacques Audiard. The film traces Albert’s developing, salient characteristics while exploring the major influences in Albert’s life–his mother, the scrap merchant, Mr. Jo, Albert’s landlords who serve as guinea pigs for the first elaborate deception, and the heroic captain Albert so admires. ‘Interviews’ are conducted with those Albert deceived, and some find Albert a complete enigma. The film examines the path Albert travels to become who he wanted to be, and while Albert remains an enigma to many who ‘knew’ him, to the viewer, he is completely demystified. In French with English subtitles.

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