French films review - February 2019
A critical eye on the latest ciné releases
Return of the Hero, Laurent Tirard; 90 mins
This charming, knowingly daft historical drama set in the Napoleonic era provides the perfect platform for Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin to do what he does best – ooze smug charm combined with hints of vulnerability.
Dujardin plays the imperiously named Capitaine Charles-Grégoire Neuville, an army officer who has only just asked for the hand in marriage of young noblewoman Pauline (Noémie Merlant) when he is called up to go to war against the British. A distraught Noémie is reassured by the captain’s promise of a daily letter from the frontline.
Needless to say the letters dry up and it is left to Pauline’s older sister Elisabeth (Mélanie Laurent) to keep her sibling’s dwindling spirits up – she does this by sending her a stream of self-penned letters purporting to be from the captain.
The adventures she details make the soldier seem like the most extraordinary fighter of his era, a man of extreme courage and guile, and he basks in the glow of this deferred glory when he eventually returns to the village, with not a hint of revealing his true history.
The tit-for-tat trickery as Elisabeth and Neuville try to outwit each other is great fun. Add plenty of romance, manor house intrigue and big-budget, all-action swashbuckling scenes and you have a very enjoyable period romp.
Keira Knightly is superb in this well-received portrayal of French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. We follow Colette’s path from country girl to literary circle figure and writer, egged on – perhaps cruelly as is implied – by her man, the literary entrepreneur ‘Willy’. A high quality drama.