Our Heroes Died Tonight : in the mirror of the match between Ghost and Slaughterer
- Immersed in the 'sixties and in black-and-white, the world of wrestling for David Perrault's first feature film
In the early 'sixties, wrestling attained its apogee in France. The rules were simple: a glowing hero and a total bastard. With his first feature film, Our Heroes Died Tonight [+see also:
film profile], unveiled in competition in the Critics' Week at the 66th Cannes Film Festival, David Perrault takes on an ambitious challenge from several points of view: a film in black-and-white, the uncommon world of wrestling, nevertheless successfully addressed quite recently by The Wrestler, and an effective homage to the cinema of yesteryear, particularly 1930's American (with The Public Enemy as an acknowledged reference). A knock-out challenge in contemporary French production that the filmmaker carries off brilliantly in terms of staging without, however, as much success as regards this story based on a fascinating theme (who is the other guy? who am I?), let down by a lack of density in the dialogues. Even so, the attempt is not lacking in panache.
Starting out perfectly by recreating the tense climate of the era with archive footage of the Algerian War, the film is centered around two men, a bar and a ring. The first, Simon (Jean-Pierre Martins) is introduced voice-off, describing the wheels-within-wheels of wrestling matches. Enthroned at the top of this highly codified world is L’Ange Blanc ("The White Angel"), a star who "goes from one hold to another more lightly than a dancer". Next in the hierarchy is a guy looking for easy money, to be left alone and applauded like "Le Spectre" ("The Ghost"), embodied by Simon. Lastly, playing the bad guy who gets booed and hissed, wearing a costume, comes Victor (Denis Ménochet) who has just been fired from the Foreign Legion. Introduced by his old pal Simon to a fight organizer (Yann Colette) who tests his resistance to pain and whose righthand-man (Philippe Nahon) sees that discipline is observed ("I'm selling a show here"), Victor is rechristened "L’Equarisseur de Belleville" ("The Slaughterer of Belleville") and wears a black mask, while Simon keeps his white one. But very soon, what with training sessions and fights, the ex-soldier is tormented by strange nightmares and traumatised by his role as a representative of dark forces. So the two friends secretly change masks. But becoming someone else is not all that easy, and trouble rears its head.
Recreating very effectively (despite financial resources far from generous) the atmosphere of the early 'sixties with its juke boxes, flipper machines, grandiloquent political speeches on the radio, and Gainsbourg's jazz, Our Heroes Died Tonight stands out for its superb direction of the preparation of the wrestlers and the bouts themselves. Playing on contrasts of light and shade (one can't help but think of Raging Bull) while transcending them thanks to slow motion sequences and highly-inspired staging, the director gives his ring a dreamlike and rather nightmarish dimension, echoing his central theme of Good and Evil, roles and masks. Brimming with literary and cinematographic references (including Gérard de Nerval, Hamlet, Franju, Boris Karloff and James Cagney), the film can be criticized for a lack of nuances in the characters and the acting of its protagonists, and a secondary, circumstantial romantic plot, which is not very convincing. Meeting with some difficulty in adding depth to the fascinating core of the subject, that of otherness ("It will be easier to take the other guy's place than play one's own role"), David Perrault can neverthess count on his extremely keen sense of imagery to develop his budding talent.
(Translated from French)
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