Return of the Hero
- Matthew Turner
- 3 December 2018
Funny and likeable French farce featuring winning work from Jean Dujardin and Mélanie Laurent
Mélanie Laurent and Jean Dujardin star as a pair of warring con artists in this French period romcom from the writer-director of Le Petit Nicolas, Laurent Tirard. Full to the brim with Gallic charm, it's an engaging and likeable farce that has unexpected emotional depth.
The film begins in 1809, as suave, smooth-talking Captain Neuville (Dujardin) is called to the front, leaving his wealthy future bride Pauline (Noémie Merlant) heartbroken. Concerned for her bratty younger sister's health, Elisabeth (Laurent) fakes a series of letters from Neuville, detailing both his love for Pauline and his heroic exploits and eventually killing him off, after which Pauline marries foppish nobleman Nicolas (Christophe Montenez).
However, three years later Neuville returns, reduced to the status of a bum having deserted the army out of cowardice. When he learns of Elisabeth's letters, he visits her aristocratic family, seeking to cash in on his heroic reputation and Elisabeth can't expose him without revealing her own deception. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game forms the heart of the film, as Neuville continually side-steps Elisabeth's attempts to see him off and she resorts to ever more desperate measures.
With a perpetual twinkle in his eye and that dazzling smile, Dujardin turns the charm up to eleven as Neuville, generating strong, sparky chemistry with Laurent in the process and effortlessly winning over the audience, despite his duplicitous nature and spinelessness (his drawn-out examination of two pistols in a duel scene is one of several comic highlights). Intriguingly, the script (co-written by Tirard and Grégoire Vigneron) avoids some of the expected plot developments in favour of a resolution that's slyly subversive and surprisingly moving.
Tirard's control of the material is assured throughout as he delivers a series of very funny visual and verbal gags with impressive comic timing, knowing just when to pull back if things are heading over the top. In addition, he's a dab hand at exploiting audience expectations: the film's most powerful moment works precisely because you're anticipating a laugh that never comes.
Selected release from Fri 7 Dec.