A Sham And France's Unsettled Past

Posted: April 30, 1997

``The best lives are invented,'' observes an elderly Albert Dehousse (Jean-Louis Trintignant), reflecting on his years as a Resistance fighter, a French lieutenant colonel, a government minister and a complete and utter sham, in Jacques Audiard's fascinating A Self-Made Hero.

The opening selection of the sixth annual Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, which gets underway tonight, Hero is a remarkable study of individual deceit and a nation's collective reckoning over its tortured role during World War II. Writer-director Audiard has created both a serious rumination about self-invention and a playful, provocative entertainment through documentary techniques (talking-head interviews with ``witnesses''), fanciful camera work and a tone that deftly combines comedy and tragedy to tell a story with political bite and poignancy.

The story is this: Albert Dehousse (played by Mathieu Kassovitz as a young man, with Trintignant supplying the reminiscences) grows up pampered and protected, the only child of a widow, in the French countryside. His childhood is immersed in toy soldiers and imaginary games, and when the Nazis roll into France, not much changes. But soon his world and the reality of the war collide, and Albert - enamored of the French guerrilla fighters - uses his skills as a virtuoso liar to insinuate himself into the Resistance movement. Thanks to his wit, his wiles and dumb luck, Albert ascends the Resistance hierarchy, so much so that in 1945, he is assigned to a key post in Germany's French-occupied zone.

With cutting humor and a superb performance from Kassovitz, A Self-Made Hero examines not only one man's life lived as a lie, but also a nation that is still trying to come to terms with its fractured past.

A SELF-MADE HERO * * * 1/2

Directed by Jacques Audiard, written by Alain Le Henry and Audiard. With Matthieu Kassovitz, Anouk Grinberg and Sandrine Kiberlain. In French with subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (sexual situations, violence)

Showing at: Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St., at 8 tonight. Tickets: $15, reservation required; includes post-screening reception. Information: 1-800-969-7392.

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