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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Heroes Don't Die (2020)

A mockumentary is a fictionalized narrative in the guise of a fake documentary setting, often used as a great output for satire. When done right, mockumentaries can be quite insightful with their observations and use of humour. They’re often comedic in tone, so it is not often you get to see the style utilized to dramatic effect. Heroes Don’t Die is a mockumentary of sorts, dipping between shades of humour through self-awareness, and then ultimately (and mostly) becoming an existential coming-of-age spiritual drama. Unfortunately, its mockumentary gimmick weighs the film down, ultimately eliminating most of the emotional resonance one would feel with the characters and their story.

Aude Léa Rapin’s debut narrative film follows Joachim (Jonathan Couzinié), who begins to think he may be a reincarnation of a Bosnian soldier that someone mistakes him for on the streets of Paris. This stranger claims that he died on a specific date, which also happens to be Joachim’s birthday. Alice (Adèle Haenel), a filmmaker, decides to take a small crew with her and make a documentary of Joachim’s journey. They travel to Sarajevo with the hopes of finding evidence he could possibly be the reincarnation of this soldier, hoping to capture lightning in a bottle.

The film opens with Joachim talking directly to us, Alice is behind the camera, prodding him with questions about this incident that happened to him in the street. Shaky, handheld VHS-like quality has implications of a found footage film. It’s an appropriate and effective tool for throwing us into his story - creating an intimate, honest and real connection with him. This is where the mockumentary (or in this case, more of a found-footage aesthetic) approach should’ve ended. Fortunately, the VHS-style footage stops there, unfortunately, the mockumentary aspect continues throughout the film - lifting us out of ever connecting to Joachim’s intimate spiritual journey.

They aren’t quite sure who he was in a past life, but Joachim’s suspicions of him being a murderer send him hurtling towards an existential crisis. Although the death of this soldier happened years before the civil war that split Yugoslavia in half, Joachim is conflicted. He does not understand why he is being treated as if he was a part of it, but also not quite understanding why he feels he has now become a part of this conflict. Neither he nor his supposed past self was directly a part of it, but it still somehow draws him spiritually closer to the people around him.

The film undergoes some odd tonal changes with light self-aware humour drawing attention to the fact they are a film crew, continuing to kick a dead horse by pushing the mockumentary approach that has no pay off at all. Even then, they barely sprinkle the faux-documentary leftovers into the mix, making it even more jarring when it comes back to ruin what could’ve been great moments. It feels like such a film school move, planting an impulsive left of center idea into a film that already had interesting themes and ideas to begin with – it doesn’t strengthen it, it weakens it, and it’s even more frustrating that they don’t really commit to what they want the film to ultimately be. What could’ve been a thoroughly thought-provoking conclusion, feels like a tragic missed opportunity that is totally disingenuous.

Heroes Don’t Die disappoints mostly due to its approach. It would work as a truly interesting, engaging and powerful piece if it wasn’t hampered down by its gimmicky point of view. And with a film that clearly has lots of ideas and things to say in terms of our spiritual connections to the past, present and future, it’s a crying shame that the result has you feeling completely and utterly duped by the entire process.

You can stream Heroes Don't Die on Prime Video and Mubi.

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