A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"The past only drags you down,'' the Captain advises Albert, who is a beggar at the time. Albert takes him at his word and reinvents himself as a hero of the French Resistance--so successfully that men who really were heroes have tears in their eyes when they think of his bravery. "A Self-Made Hero'' is inspired by the way that some French belatedly recalled that they were always against the Nazis in World War II, but it is not simply an attack on hypocrisy. In a larger sense, it's about our human weakness for inventing stories about ourselves, and telling them so often that we believe them.
Albert Dehousse (Mathieu Kassovitz) is schooled in deception at his mother's breast. From her he learns that his father was a hero in the first war: Doesn't she have his veteran's pension to prove it? From nasty local urchins Albert learns the more likely story, that his father was a drunk who died of liver failure, and his mother made the whole thing up.
Albert himself is an idle daydreamer, a blank slate on which various versions of a life story can be sketched. He reads romantic novels, and then tells a girl he is a novelist. She believes him and marries him, but her family so mistrusts him that it is only after the war that he discovers they were in the Resistance, and sheltered Allied pilots who were shot down.
Albert spends the war as a salesman, having evaded the draft. From his father-in-law he learns that to make a sale, you must determine what a customer wants to believe, and confirm it. Fleeing his first marriage after the liberation, he is penniless in Paris when he meets the Captain (Albert Dupontel), a heroic Resistance parachutist who assumed so many fake identities during the war that he perhaps lost touch with himself and identified only with his deceptions. He bluntly counsels Albert to invent a new past.