Film: Also showing

A Self Made Hero Jacques Audiard (15) Tokyo Fist Tsukamoto Shin'ya (18)
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The Independent Culture
If Billy Liar had taken an assertiveness training course, he might have ended up something like Albert Dehousse, the wide-eyed chancer whose fictional life story is unravelled in A Self Made Hero. I stress fictional because the film is constructed as a mock documentary, with dramatisations of Albert's rise to moderate power as a Resistance "hero" at the end of the Second World War punctuated by the reminiscences of those who "knew" him - though as both the film's director, Jacques Audiard, and lead actor, Mathieu Kassovitz, have stressed, history isn't exactly starved of prominent figures who earnt their status through subterfuge.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about A Self Made Hero is that it should have no axe to grind against its mini-Mitterrand. Albert is a resourceful man who just happens to have a gaping hole where his identity should be. He plugs the hole with lies, and the lies shape him. Although guile plays a big part in his progress, Albert isn't malicious - his success seems accidental. On a whim, he flees a disappointing marriage, and arrives in Paris as a beggar. A combination of meeting the right people and being unburdened by personality enables him to generate a glorious reputation, its lustre undiminished by its tenuous relationship with reality.

There are some scenes of brilliantly taut comedy as Albert ingratiates himself with Resistance veterans, and each one proves too uncertain of the past to actually deny knowledge of him, which subtly implicates the entire reunion in his masquerade. This suggestion that history is fluid is made startlingly explicit early on when the young Albert learns that his late father was not the war hero that his mother claimed, but a renowned alcoholic. As the boy glances up at his father's portrait on the wall, the picture springs to life, and the hiccuping old man inside the frame appears to be toasting his son.

Audiard litters his film with such touches, whose purpose is to nudge us in the ribs and remind us that what we're watching is itself an artifice. Intelligent audiences will make that connection without assistance, and may begrudge the devices that disrupt the picture. The character who addresses the camera and divulges the exact date and method of his forthcoming death, which lies buried in the future, is not only intrusive but superfluous, since the film is already built around a flashback structure (the elderly Albert, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, recounts the story).

But the divergences from the main story are mostly imaginative and well judged. It's an especially nice idea to have the camera panning along the musicians who are playing the movie's score. Audiard employs these passages as both an intermission between sections of the film, and a comment on the action, the way Lindsay Anderson used Alan Price in O Lucky Man. And the documentary effect works very well, particularly towards the end, when Audiard orchestrates some frenzied cutting between different figures testifying to Albert's multifarious activities, and then drowns out their voices with music, so that the words - the facts - cease to matter.

A Self Made Hero might feasibly be a cold, post-modernist exercise were it not for the warmth of Mathieu Kassovitz. As Audiard busies himself arranging parallels between Albert's life and the nature of cinema (with Albert even muscling himself into newsreel footage, Zelig-style, at one point,) Kassovitz works in the opposite direction, revealing new layers of consciousness, all the time maintaining the same bewildered calm of a man who's just been handed some really tricky algebra. The friction between the two methods creates a fitting sense of schizophrenia, with Kassovitz eliciting sympathy for Albert, while Audiard seizes every opportunity to expose the mechanics of the narrative.

The intentions of actor and director merge in one beautifully poetic shot, when Albert's mind, which has spent years absorbing names and details relevant to his invented life, is represented as a spinning Rolodex - its pages flashing past in a blur. It's a succinct and hilarious image, and the only time that Audiard dares to venture into the frenzied activity hidden behind Albert's cool, hungry eyes.

The director of the fiercely imaginative Tetsuo movies, Tsukamoto Shin'ya, turns his restless and sadistic eye to boxing in Tokyo Fist, a film whose effect on the senses is more or less summed up by its recurring image of a man banging his head against a brick wall. Tsuda (played by Shin'ya himself) is a lowly, dissatisfied salesman who runs into an old high-school friend, a boxer named Takuji (Tsukamato Koji) who gradually teases the inner beast out of his timid chum.

The theme of civilisation versus primitivism is hardly an original one, and Shin'ya handles it in a disappointingly pat fashion, with Takuji's influence on Tsuda's girlfriend manifesting itself in an increasingly masochistic fascination with tattoos and body piercing. The editing is as rudimentary as the acting, and the proliferation of different styles and coloured filters suggests desperation more than energy. But the picture does assume a kind of brutal splendour in its final, near-silent half hour, embodied by some absurdly gruesome boxing sequences in which the camera becomes an invisible third fighter in the ring. And there is fleeting evidence, too, of a sense of humour, when Tsuda is ticked off about his posture during a fighting lesson. "You're too straight!" the coach warns him - and if that isn't a sly reference to the film's intoxicating homoeroticism, then I'm the heavyweight champion of the worldn

Both films go on release tomorrow

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