NOBODY'S HERO Review: Unexpectedly Topical French Farce

French director Alain Guiraudie's unpredictable comedy combines a bedroom farce with a terrorist attack.

Contributing Writer; New Jersey, USA (@fuzzyyarns)
NOBODY'S HERO Review: Unexpectedly Topical French Farce
A run of notable films can afford a director automatic consideration for their subsequent films. French director Alain Guiraudie reaps the benefit of building in that cache. 
His sixth and latest film, Nobody’s Hero, premiered in the Panorama sidebar at the Berlin Film Festival, not the Official Competition, but a section two down from that. And it did not win any notable prizes. It is only making its way to North American screens one and a half years later.
It deserves our attention because Guiraudie’s two prior films were both widely-seen, staggering masterworks: Staying Vertical (2016) and Stranger By The Lake (2013). The former had a coveted spot in the Main Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The latter made countless best-of-year lists around the world, was named film of the year by Cahiers Du Cinema, and landed eight César nominations (the French Oscars).
In contrast to those sober works, Nobody’s Hero finds Guiraudie operating in a more comedic key than present in his earlier works. The setup is straight out of a boudoir farce. Single, 35-year-old tech worker Médéric (Jean-Charles Clichet), out on his daily run, meets cute 50-year-old prostitute Isadora (Noémie Lvovsky) and immediately asks her out. He tells her he doesn’t want to pay for sex because he finds prostitution degrading. She, despite her misgivings, starts seeing him and shenanigans ensue.
Isadora is married and her husband, Gérard (Renaud Rutten) is accommodating of her profession. In fact, he picks her up after “work” from the cheap motel where she sleeps with her clients and on one occasion asks her to return money to a man because he didn’t cum. Gérard, nevertheless, gets jealous when Isadora starts dallying about with Médéric.
This is only one of the two storylines in the surprisingly plotty Nobody’s Hero. The other one unexpectedly concerns a terrorist attack, of all things, and the fortunes of a homeless Arab youth Selim (Iliès Kadri). On a rainy night, Médéric lets Selim into his building and lets him sleep in the stairwell. The city is gripped with paranoia due to the terrorist attack; many of the building’s residents suspect Selim might be involved and want him shunted onto the streets. Eventually, they relent, and Selim becomes a regular fixture in Médéric’s building.
At first, we watch almost two separate films intercut with each other sharing the main character Médéric. But gradually, the two storylines begin to converge in entirely unforeseen ways. And this is where Guiraudie demonstrates his commitment to never taking his audience for granted.
Moment to moment, Nobody’s Hero holds you in thrall because there is no predicting what might transpire or what any of the characters might do. Guiraudie consistently subverts expectations, sidesteps cliches, and avoids easy templates or tropes. 
The purpose of cinema is not necessarily to surprise the viewer at all costs. If that were the case, unhinged left turns would prevail in a race to oblivion. Rather it is to draw the audience away from the familiar and show them new perspectives. This is a trick Hollywood fails to grasp and that international indies routinely ace. Novelty in narrative and artistic expression can sustain interest far better than all the fancy camera moves in the world or any amount of crosscutting.
Other unexpected touches include the lead couple of this supposed “sex comedy”, Médéric and Isadora, being so very ordinary. Guiraudie seems to be telling us that these people have desires and can be desirable too. Isadora the prostitute is charming but at 50+ has had some time on earth; she is heavyset and fleshy. Médéric, who Gérard calls a “hunk” at one point, is yet a regular, average guy. He’s balding, clumsy, and when he gets naked has a flabby, schlubby body.
And he gets naked several times. Guiraudie has always portrayed sexuality in an unvarnished manner in his films. Such is the case in Nobody’s Hero too. The explicit sex scenes feature extensive male and female full-frontal nudity, but are drained of all sensuality or eroticism. Guiraudie postulated that it is because he has a queer gaze. Consequently, his camera sees heterosexual sex acts as very matter-of-fact or even “funny”, given the tone the film is aiming for.
Elsewhere, Guiraudie's queer gaze is evident in the droll roundelay of sexuality in Nobody’s Hero. Several characters switch their sexual orientation or say they have done so during the course of the movie. But always, there is Guiraudie’s peculiar humanity evident; he has compassion for his very human characters, not despite their imperfections but because of them.
Nobody’s Hero, based and shot on location in the French city of Clermont-Ferrand, makes good use of the bustling urban environs to craft a compelling portrait of modern France. Guiraudie cannily sets his film in the middle of the country to lend more force to the racism and xenophobia that the Arab youth Selim faces, as setting the tale in the more multicultural Paris might have diluted its impact.
Guiraudie has always demonstrated tremendous command of the frame and his talent for framing, blocking, and cutting is readily apparent. His unfussy directorial style makes for a clean, coherent and absorbing picture.
For all its several virtues, we have to express a not insubstantial quibble with Nobody’s Hero. Despite its obvious mastery in several aspects and competence in others, it just isn’t very funny! That might not ordinarily be a deterrent; lots of good films don’t generate laughs, but we were promised a comedy.
Some of it might be lost in translation, as a French comedy is worlds apart from an American one. Even so, Nobody’s Hero is well worth your time as a fitfully amusing but always engrossing portrait of contemporary France.
Nobody’s Hero is now playing in select US theaters courtesy of Strand Releasing.
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Alain GuiraudieBerlin Film FestivalJean-Charles ClichetNobody's HeroNoémie Lvovsky

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