Return of the Hero

 

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This charming French comedy seems to have made little impression on its limited UK release.

 
Return of the Hero

Mélanie Laurent and Jean Dujardin

 

Director Laurent Tirard co-wrote Return of the Hero with Grḗgoire Vigneron and between them they have dished up a delightfully playful period French comedy. Set in 1809 at the time of the Napoleonic wars, it concerns the dashing Captain Neuville played by Oscar-winning Jean Dujardin (of The Artist fame) who, just as he proposes to the aristocratic Pauline (Noémie Merlant) is called away back to the army, but promising he will write to her from Austria. He doesn’t... so Pauline’s meddlesome sister Elisabeth (Mélanie Laurent) concocts letters pretending they are from the absent would-be war hero.

Returning from the front three years later in rags and penniless, Neuville is recognised by Elisabeth who tries to send him away again with promises of gifts of money. But the Captain will have none of it and returns to the chateau in fine fettle only to find that his fiancée has married another. In an effort to show what a war hero he is, Neuville discovers what Elisabeth has done and they begin their own private war by trying to con each other into submission.

Director Tirard keeps the comic elements intact without labouring them and steers his cast from going over the top into farce. He gets nicely tongue-in-cheek performances from Dujardin, Laurent and Merlant and indeed the rest of the players. In this he is aided immeasurably by the beautiful cinematography of Guillaume Schiffman who captures the sun-filled country locations of rural France, the delightful production designs of Françoise Dupertuis and the lush costumes of Pierre-Jean Larroque with immense panache.

It is difficult to see why such a crowd-pleasing and beautifully mounted film like this one should have been given such a limited showing. Originally released in France on St Valentine’s Day in 2018, it played the Edinburgh Festival in June but only had a limited release from last December in the UK. Catch it now on DVD, for it really is a treat.

Original title: Le retour du héros.

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Mélanie Laurent, Noémie Merlant, Christophe Montenez, Evelyne Buyle, Christian Bujeau, Féodor Atkine, Fabienne Galula, Laurent Bateau.

 

Dir Laurent Tirard, Pro Marc Dujardin and Olivia Lagache, Screenplay Laurent Tirard and Grḗgoire Vigneron, Ph Guillaume Schiffman, Pro Des Françoise Dupertuis, Ed Yann Malcor, Music Mathieu Lamboley, Costumes Pierre-Jean Larroque.

 

Les Films sur Mesure/JD Prod/StudioCanal/France 3 Cinḗma/Nexus Factory/Umedia/GV Prod-StudioCanal.
90 mins. France/Belgium. 2018. Rel: 7 December 2018. Cert. 12A.