Alain Guiraudie’s tale of terrorism marks a tonal shift that favours stereotypes over satire

Nobody's Hero

Source: CG Cinema

‘Nobody’s Hero’

Dir: Alain Guiraudie. France. 2022. 100 mins 

In Clermont-Ferrand, Central France, in the sulky grey days following Christmas, Médéric (Jean-Charles Clichet), a man in his thirties, becomes obsessed with Isadora (Noémie Lvovsky) an older, married sex worker. But their first attempt at a hook-up is interrupted, firstly by news of a nearby terror attack, then by Isadora’s jealous husband. Meanwhile Selim (Iliès Kadri), a young Arab drifter, seeks shelter in the stairwell of Médéric’s apartment building, causing heated debates among the residents of the block. The latest film from Alain Guiraudie is an unexpected tonal shift for the director of Stranger By The Lake. It’s a bedroom farce with Jihadist jokes; a film which attempts to skewer the preconceptions harboured about its marginalised characters without allowing those characters the leeway to emerge from the margins as fully rounded individuals. Early flashes of humour are not sustained in a picture which soon becomes mired in a tangle of conflicting motivations and question marks.

 An unexpected tonal shift for the director of Stranger By The Lake

The opening film of Berlin’s Panorama section, Nobody’s Hero is Guiraudie’s first Berlinale premiere, following a slot in Cannes Competition for Staying Vertical and in Cannes Un Certain Regard for Stranger By The Lake, which won the directing prize and the Queer Palme. This film seems less certain in its sexual identity than Guiraudie’s previous pictures, an issue which may curtail its commercial journey, although welcome on the festival circuit and perhaps a theatrical release in francophone territories beckon.

Médéric, frequently clad in unflattering lycra running gear and a deadpan expression, is an almost aggressively average sort of chap. But there is enough in his gauche demeanour to pique the interest of Isadora, even after he informs her that since he is morally against prostitution, he can’t possibly pay her for sex. Noémie Lvovsky, returning to a character not dissimilar to the good-hearted fifty-something sex worker role that she recently played in Working Girls by Frédéric Fonteyne and Anne Paulicevich, is a confident and sensual screen presence. Isadora is uninhibited, beyond even the requirements of her profession, and she owns her pleasure, loudly and vocally. But beyond one awkwardly placed chunk of dialogue which muses upon the disenfranchisement of the young Arab male, there’s very little to suggest that there is much going on in Isadora’s life beyond the quest for sex. It’s all very well to push a message of body acceptance and sex positivity, but if that’s the be all and end all of the characterisation, it doesn’t give the actor much to work with. 

Meanwhile, Médéric, like his neighbours, is torn in his reaction to Selim, the sad-eyed boy hiding beneath a hood, his possessions crammed into a sports bag. On one hand, his empathetic side sees a young man down on his luck and without shelter from the frigid winter nights. But the blanket media coverage of the terror attack also colours his perception – he can’t help but see Selim as a threat. Hacking Selim’s email account, Médéric finds evidence which would seem to back up this suspicion – there is a cache of deleted emails from a ‘cyber caliphate’, and an ISIS flag in his bag. But, while the film never fully delves into Selim’s affiliations, it does finally reveal that he has other secrets. 

The complicated tangle of attractions between various characters and the third act whirl of bed hopping is explored with a flat execution: the score favours droning, slightly ominous tones, and the look of the film is rather lifeless – unexpectedly so, given that the usually dynamic Hélène Louvart (The Lost Daughter, Rocks) acts as DoP. Ultimately, however, tonal inconsistencies are just one of the problems with a film which inadvertently perpetuates the very stereotypes and assumptions that it tries to satirise.  

Production company: CG Cinema

International sales: Les Films Du Losange

Producer: Charles Gillibert

Screenplay: Alain Guiraudie, Laurent Lunetta

Cinematography: Hélène Louvart

Editing: Jean-Christophe Hym 

Production design: Emmanuelle Duplay

Music: Xavier Boussiron

Main cast: Jean-Charles Clichet, Noémie Lvovsky, Iliès Kadri, Michel Masiero, Doria Tillier, Renaud Rutten, Philippe Fretun, Farida Rahouadj, Miveck Packa, Yves-Robert Viala, Patrick Ligardes