Film Scouts Interviews

"Un héros très discret" (A Self Made Hero) Press Conference
at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival

by Karen Jaehne

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The press conference for Jacques Audiard's "Self-Made Hero" was packed with French people, because the star of the film, Matthieu Kassovitz, was there. Young Matthieu did a fab job of playing the hero of this movie who sort of reinvents himself as a hero of the French Resistance in WWII (although he had zip to do with it) later after the war.

Because Kassovitz is the bad boy of French cinema and a director himself (of "La Haine" which is currently in art house release in the US), and because he never gives interviews, his appearance at the festival was like a sighting of Elvis.

As it turned out, the most interesting people were the director and the writer of the novel upon which the film is based, Jean-Francois Deniau.

Q: Does it not bother you that the character Albert weaves an entire tapestry of lies to create himself anew? And were you generalizing about the French character?

Jacques Audiard: No and no. But let me say that Albert is an odd character - and what is important is that he does not lie. He insinuates, but mostly he lets other people draw conclusions from his own silence. And you must remember that after the war, with records and government in such chaos, it was necessary for many people - whether they were in hiding or had somehow lost their identity - to declare an identity, providing they had two witnesses who would confirm the story. So it would be possible to convince two people, then convince the officials...right? And remember, he did nothing bad. He simply tried to create a life he never lived.

Q: Is the character based on any historical figure?

Jean-Francois Deniau: Yes, it was a man I met at the end of the war - he was large, imposing figure. The less he spoke, the ess risk he took. I added details to make the story work. But he was very interesting, and nobody figured out how he had accomplished this enormous leap into heroism until much, much later. His success had something to do with the general principle - commonly accepted - that there are two kinds of fighters: those who talk about it and those who fight.

Q: I have a question for Matthieu Kassovitz about working with Jean-Louis Trintignant, who plays the role of the character when he is much older and confessing to all this.

Matthieu Kassovitz: It's nice to think I might look like Trintignant when I get older.

Q: Speaking as an American and looking at French history as an outsider, may I ask if one of the purposes of this film is to de-mystify the French resistance? It seems to be such a big deal, and yet, we all know that every society has an urge to undermine icons.

Jacques Audiard: Louis Malle was reproached for trying to address collaboration long ago when he made "Lucien Lacombe." And others have had to listen to cries about betrayal from similar conservative quarters. It took 40 or 50 years to realize that France did not deserve its place at the victors' table. The main challenge here is to create a situation where the criteria of truth are lost - one by one. I used the book as a starting point, but yes, I guess I was trying to make us examine the basis of our beliefs in any kind of heroism.

Q: The movie reminded me of similar attempts - say, "Forest Gump" or "Being There" in which the hero is perceived as one thing, but he is in fact a simple person.

Audiard, the director: Forest Gump is a success in terms of American illusionism. I guess in both cases we are dealing with pathological processes. But a Gump digest of the U.S. is a very different thing from what Albert is in "Un Heros très discret." It's true that I tried to avoid anything that would incite nostalgia for the past - those golden years after the war when we bathed in our ideas of our own heroism. For example, Truffaut recreated a look and used period ambience in "The Last Metro." But I absolutely avoided any attempt to romanticize the era we are watching in this film.

Kassovitz, the star: Me, I was wondering about historical research and I was ready to do it, but the film was so much about the present, I could play a character who would be just as alive today as then. And for years I've been hearing this chewed over. And I don't have a vocation to be a historian. I wanted merely to show what you feel if you were born after the war. I wanted to fuck it. Excuse my language. I wanted to make a comedy of it.

Deniau, the writer: The problem with life is it's just a draft.

Q: Isn't it possible that this film is really about the emotional and political tyranny of the older war generation over the young? And how difficult it can be to get a job in France? To enter into a society without having the will or courage to be a hero?

Audiard: Yes, French society is very codified. But the rest of the question should be directed at Matthieu Kassovitz.

Kassovitz: I don't understand the question. I have courage.

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