From his early short films to his two breakout features, Stranger by the Lake (2013) and Staying Vertical (2016), Alain Guiraudie has long conveyed a peculiarly attuned sense of community and the various figures that comprise it. Whether it be the concentrated gay collectives of Stranger by the Lake and his 2001 mid-length masterpiece That Old Dream That Moves, or the more varied and drifting denizens of Staying Vertical, his films slyly sketch out the milieus that its main characters move through, lending them an air of sometimes friendly, sometimes foreboding mystery that only grows as traits and flaws are revealed.
Nobody’s Hero continues this trend, largely for the better. Guiraudie’s first feature in six years premiered in, of all places, the Panorama sidebar at the 2022 Berlin Film Festival, a notably lower-profile venue after the Cannes Competition berth that his previous film had secured. Since then, Nobody’s Hero has seemed to have mostly disappeared, with this theatrical run from noted Guiraudie stalwart Strand Releasing appearing to mark its U.S. premiere. There’s many possible explanations, but the most likely stems from what may be considered the questionable premise, which largely centers on a young Arab man, Sélim (Iliès Kadri), living on the streets of Clermont-Ferrand, who is suspected of being involved in a terrorist attack in the French city. He, like everyone else, is seen through the partly suspicious, partly sympathetic eyes of Médéric (Jean-Charles Clichet), a slightly schlubby computer programmer who juggles this rapidly escalating situation with his fumbling courtship of Isadora (Noémie Lvovsky), an older married sex worker.
These twin obsessions with sex and death, a hallmark of Guiraudie’s cinema, reach an early apotheosis in Médéric and Isadora’s first encounter in her usual hotel room, where orgiastic pleasure quickly gets stifled by the first news reports of the carnage; when her husband barges in, our hero pleads that “life doesn’t have to stop for a terrorist attack.” That canny blend of hilarity and discomfort — the many interrupted sexual encounters laced throughout Nobody’s Hero all register as varying degrees of mortifying — comes to typify the odd charm of the film, which largely takes pains to satirize its characters’ reactions to the general state of suspicion and hostility in both arenas rather than terrorism or racism itself.
One could of course argue that the difference between the two is negligible, but Guiraudie’s touch is too assured for that, with some expert modulations of rhythm to ensure that neither of the two plotlines feels too cumbersome. Opting for 1.85:1 after the magnificent Scope photography of his more recent work, Guiraudie harnesses a great deal from Médéric’s penchant for jogging, with his bobbing neon-green outline frequently ushering in a shift in focus, even as Clichet’s wonderfully nonplussed expressions establish a baseline tone that carries the day. Nobody’s Hero is ultimately a little messier than the creeping precision of Stranger by the Lake or the controlled madness of Staying Vertical, but the character work alone, between, say, the elderly hotel concierge and his young teenage assistant, or among the occupants of Médéric’s apartment building, gives this an air of distinction far beyond what its heretofore tepid reception suggests. The ending is as much a lark as anything else, abrupt yet entirely fitting, where little is resolved and yet everything that needs to be said is captured in one ineffable image.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 24
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