Film: Papa, what did you do during the guerre?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Lying makes terrific cinema, and Jacques Audiard's A Self Made Hero (15) is an arrestingly complex essay on mendacity, mediocrity and - in an elliptical way - Mitterrand. Matthieu Kassovitz stars as Albert Dehousse, a tongue-tied nonentity who spends the war mooning about his mother's house in Vichy France. In the aftermath of the conflict, he gets on a train to Paris and reinvents himself as a Resistance hero, seemingly because he wants to live on a diet of free war-reunion canapes.

As a result of memorising an ex-employer's Rolodex of Nazi collaborators and embarrassing a clique of veterans into believing he's an old acquaintance whom they've forgotten, Albert lands a comfortable job in a provincial propaganda agency. A dumb witness to history reconstructs himself as one of its active players and, aided by cutaways to pseudo-documentary interviews with present day figures "remembering" Dehousse's chameleon scam, Audiard mines a rich seam of French unease about Petain and Petainism.

But we don't really blame Albert. History is only repeating itself - although his father's posthumous reputation as an Ypres hero is aggressively maintained by Mme Dehousse, the man transpires to have been a drunken stay-at-home.

When this illusion is shattered, we see the paternal portrait come to beery life, and Albert faints into his Vichyssoise. It's one of several unsubtle nudge-nudges about its own constructedness that are the film's only important flaw. Whereas the faked interviews provide a sly counterpoint to Albert's fictions, other tricks, like Audiard's slow pans across his incidental musicians, only belabour the point, and look uncomfortably like out-takes from Un Coeur en Hiver.

It's Kassovitz's exquisitely judged performance that gives the movie a likeable, luminous centre. The art of it is in what he does with his eyes - they're bafflingly opaque, until he begins his osmotic absorption of other people's biographies. But when this scheme pays off, they're alive with a borrowed brilliance.

Ever wondered what a psycho-kinetic love triangle is? Tokyo Fist (18), a boxing picture from Manga maestro Tsukamoto Shin'ya, features one. It appears to involve having your pierced nipples bitten off and your face pummelled to a steaky puree. Its writer-director-producer stars as Tsuda, a clerk with a penchant for smashing his head into concrete walls. Hizuru, his fiancee, (Fujii Kahori) drives six-inch nails through her earlobes, whilst her would-be seducer, a fading fighter called Takuji (Tsukamoto Koji), favours rubbing himself in petroleum jelly and hurling the hapless Tsuda through the bedroom wall.

If the film wasn't so constipated by its glum pretentiousness, it would be an ambulance-chaser's wet dream. We get treated to a dead cat squirming with maggots, Takuji and Tsuda gushing with cartoonish fountains of blood and snot, and a gory organ plopping to the ring floor - all over-dubbed with sound effects of the celery-and-brickhammer variety. Shin'ya, however, has sandbagged his movie with innumerable shots of himself staring into the middle distance. Without them, it might have made an efficient exploitationer.

Violence of a more familiar sort forms the nerves and gristle of Hard Men (18), a sub-Tarantino shocker from J K Amalou. Although it has flashes of originality - notably a scene in which Tone, a sensitive extortioner, sings his baby to sleep over a mobile - the film hasn't a hope of escaping its influences. The gangsterisms are Sweeney-plus- F-word, the hectoring conversations about pop culture are anglicised Pulp Fiction, and a scene in which the heroes accidentally pick up a pair of transvestites comes straight from last week's aged repeat of Only Fools and Horses. But "Mad" Frankie Fraser's performance as - guess what? - a pock-faced South London Capone is a bizarre delight. He seems much more in his element than he did when he turned up on Brass Eye.

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