Dir/scr : David Perrault. France. 2013. 100mins


An atmospheric widescreen visual treat evocatively rendered in black & white, writer-director David Perrault’s feature film debut Our Heroes Died Tonight (Nos Héros sons morts ce soir) has a lot going for it beyond being stylised within an inch of its life. While the film is set in the world of rigged wrestling in early 1960s Paris, potential viewers uninterested in muscular men in form-fitting skull masks tossing each other around a smoke-hazed ring shouldn’t be scared off - there is ample action but the heart of the matter is personal identity, explored here with earnest, often imaginative strokes.

Smart retro production design - record players, pinball machines, café furniture - is richly convincing, while the often eerie score is an excellent fit.

Unafraid to plunge into the poetic potential of truly cinematic imagery - dream sequences, long takes in longing-inducing settings etc -this well-cast period drama boasts plenty of film buff nods and winks that enrich the narrative even for those who can’t quite put their finger on the iconography.

Additional festival berths seem assured following the film’s premiere in International Critics Week at Cannes. Art house distributors beyond France may well be won over by the picture’s snappy dialogue and snappier visuals, although this is an odd hybrid with a hauntingly melancholy vibe.

Burly Denis Menochet (the French farmer so memorably grilled by Christoph Waltz at the start of Inglorious Basterds) is excellent as Victor, an ex-member of the French Foreign Legion who looks like a tough customer but is a bit of a softie. His good buddy Simon (Jean-Pierre Martins), possessed of a muscular build and a handsome profile, secures him a gig as a wrestler. If they were wearing cowboy hats instead of clingy masks, Simon’s assigned ring persona would don the white one and Victor would wear black, but when the two friends conspire to switch roles, the fight ends up thrown in an unexpected direction. Bad things ensue.

Artifice, showmanship, male friendship and what constitutes virility are explored en route to the conclusion that depending on what makes you tick, you probably can’t have your beefcake and eat it, too.

As a mob enforcer, jovially creepy Pascal Demolon purveys a superb flair for menace built on timing and verbal flourishes. With his arresting sunken eye socket, character actor Yann Collette is terrific as a sadistic dandy whom one would be ill-advised to cross. Philippe Nahon is tops as crusty wrestling coach, Ferdinand.

This is a man’s world, but Constance Dolle and Alice Barnole make strong impressions as, respectively, a bistro owner with a literary bent and Simon’s girlfriend who is hip to Serge Gainsbourg’s music ahead of the curve. Smart retro production design - record players, pinball machines, café furniture - is richly convincing, while the often eerie score is an excellent fit.

Production company : Mille et une productions

International sales : SND Groupe M6, www.sndm6group.com

Producer : Farès Ladjimi

Cinematography : Christophe Duchange

Editor : Maxime Pozzi-Garcia

Production designer : Florian Sanson

Music : Julien Gester, Olivier Gonord

Main cast : Denis Menochet, Jean-Pierre Martins, Constance Dolle, Philippe Nahon, Pascal Demolon, Alice Barnole, Yann Collette