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MOVIES: MyFrenchFilmFestival 2021: Heroes Don't Die - Review

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Casting a light on the afterlife and reincarnation has never been an easy topic. Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper remains a crowning example of the modern-day ghost story perfected, thanks to a crowning performance by Kristen Stewart. Here Heroes Don’t Die offers up similiar vibes for a direct comparison, pairing Portrait of a Lady on Fire actress Adèle Haenel with Jonathan Couzinié for Aude Léa Rapin’s debut film, that connects central protagonist Joachim with with a soldier who died in Bosnia on August 1983, on the same day that he was born. This provokes a country-spanning quest for search and answers, told in a sombre and reflective way. It’s an intriguing set-up that allows for a study of the afterlife and reincarnation told largely through intriguing camerawork that gives Heroes Don’t Die an air of a documentary feel to its narrative semi-reminiscent of a travelogue, adding to the self-structured sense of realism that makes the use of its Bosnia backdrop to create iconic imagery.

Heroes Don’t Die is a character study that runs for a comparatively short eighty-five minutes. It plays against our expectations in how we would come to define ghost stories as it looks at a man grappling with his sense of ego and lack of easy, immediate answers, as we follow him grow increasingly desperate entwined with the film’s core central narrative that ups the ante as it progresses. This is a film that tackles the subject of the Bosnian War, still fresh in living memory, in a profoundly impactful way that was an instant high point for me, maximising its setting in order to so making the drama feel real and alive. From the fact that bullet holes are still present in the architecture of the environment that the characters are driving through you get a clear sense that all of this is taking place in recent memory, and the grounded nature that comes with its travelogue feel gives Heroes Don’t Die a sense of sadness and enigma that never truly goes away.

To the credit of Aude Léa Rapin, who immediately establishes herself as a director to keep an eye out for going forward, Heroes Don’t Die never shies away from combining a variety of genres – acting as a mostly stellar new addition to the line-up of considerably strong independent French films that we’ve had of late. Adèle Haenel, instantly the best part of anything that she is cast in, is no different here, removed from her collaborations with Céline Sciamma and captivating at every turn. Comical moments with an air of deadpan humour might not be what you’d expect from this otherwise sombre tale, but thanks in no small part due to Haenel’s tasteful delivery, not only do they work but they also serve as skilled character building, and whilst its characters can come off as unlikeable if not even pretentious, it feels like sometimes they are purposely written that way, as we watch them react and struggle to get to grips with the lack of clear and easy answers that the film does not give them, keeping the audience in the dark as much as the characters – and the central performers do a marvellous job at capturing their characters frustrations, with Couzinié putting in a richly memorable performance alongside Haenel. Praise must be given to Antonia Buresi, who rounds out an excellent cast that grapples brilliantly with the material. These characters always feel real, and that aids the film’s narrative-focused approach.

Paul Guilhaume’s talented cinematography makes even the travelogue-style cinematography look beautiful, and the scenery and location shots give Heroes Don’t Die a unique look to it that stays with you long after the film has ended - it will probably sweep under your radar this year if you're not actively looking for it, but Heroes Don't Die does a very good job at proving why it's worthy of a watch. 

Heroes Don't Die is currently airing on Mubi. It is also available as part of MyFrenchFilmFestival.

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