Berlinale 2022 review: Nobody’s Hero (Alain Guiraudie)

“The utopia shared between Médéric and Guiraudie, of starting something anew from the ruins of this building and this rotten society, truly strikes a chord.”

Six years is a long time to wait between two Alain Guiraudie films (partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted the shoot). His last one (Staying Vertical) dates back to 2016, and Nobody’s Hero brings a lot of changes to his cinema. With this new movie Guiraudie leaves the countryside and goes to the city – Clermont-Ferrand, a sleepy regional capital located in France’s central plateau – which he uses as a basis for his narrative ambition: to portray French society in all its diversity and difficulties. Guiraudie’s specific tone, half serious, half offbeat humor, is still there from the very beginning. The (nobody’s) hero, Médéric, is introduced to us in his jogging outfit, desperately trying to hit on a prostitute (Isadora) in the middle of the street, hoping to convince her to have sex with him free of charge since his passion is sincere and he is a great lover. She accepts, but at the same time as they are having sex in her hotel room a terrorist attack takes place in town, prompting Isadora’s husband to burst in. The final touch of comedy comes when the husband forces Isadora to give back to Médéric the money he never spent in the first place, allowing him to make an unintended financial profit out of this encounter.

As he goes back home Médéric runs into Sélim, a homeless boy who soon becomes an all too easy suspect for the attack because of racial and religious profiling. Through Sélim, who is in trouble with a gang from the projects, and Isadora, who lives in the fancy suburbs, Médéric comes across two social classes living far from him – and who would rather keep it that way, as Médéric’s attempts to venture into their respective territories end in failure and rejection. Therefore, it is downtown, in Médéric’s building, that his alternate plan can come to life, as he gives shelter to both Isadora and Sélim with the help of his neighbours. Together they lay the foundations of a new attempt to build a society; but the real society gets angry at them for doing so, and violent confrontations will ensue.

Médéric and Guiraudie yearn for a different way of living together as a community. Médéric articulates it like this: “Everyone’s pissed off and no one talks to each other anymore”. In his filmmaking, Guiraudie conveys the issue by opposing the joyous innocence of the vaudeville genre against the realistic depiction of present-day paranoia and panic. The latter, with its scenes being a little too explanatory, is not as convincing as the former, where Guiraudie navigates smartly between romance and sauciness. Yet the antagonism between both sides, the ones who want to love and the ones who want to fight, truly works as a whole, mostly thanks to the director’s ability to show interest for every one of his characters, even the minor ones (an underage intern at the hotel, the police commissary). Hence the utopia shared between Médéric and Guiraudie, of starting something anew from the ruins of this building and this rotten society, truly strikes a chord, especially with France’s upcoming election on the horizon and the lack of goodwill and empathy attached to it.