Be a Hero, Directed by Frédéric Gerth
Be a Hero approaches action film from the unique perspective of intelligent satire, at once upending viewer expectations whilst taking seriously the cinematographic technique of the genre. It is a film that ably generates dramatic action unmistakably fashioned from Hollywood, but not without significant cultural elements of European cinema. And most significantly, it adopts a self-deprecatory slant that, in the end, challenges the seriousness of surficial narrative, questions its own underlying assumptions, and infuses humour in the least likely of places.
The scene opens gracefully to the threatening darkness of a disgusting dungeon. The camera (cinematography by Philip J. Drangmeister) advances methodically through the filth and damp, unhurriedly documenting details of the room. In the camera’s movement there is evidence of an artistic mentality that is rare within a genre that tends toward the fast-paced and the dramatic. This is not to say that this action film does not exemplify these characteristics as well – it does (and well, at that); but the film also represents the kind of cinematic approach that one often finds only in independent film that approaches American genres with ‘fresh’ techniques which are rooted in traditions from outside Hollywood, risky, and decidedly artistic.
The methodical movement of the camera traces lines in the room: the spaces between tiles on the damp floor, the vertical patterns of menacing chains hanging from the ceiling. This tracing of lines creates intriguing perspectives by purposefully constraining the camera to a two-dimensional plane: it is a brief study in linear movement, tracing the vertical and horizontal linearities of the scene and foreshadowing the complexity of the space. Through the mysterious darkness, the camera gives us just a glimpse of the scene’s totality, which is monstrous – and deceptive.
Chains hang from the ceiling, casting shadows onto the walls and reflecting images into puddles on the floor. The criss-crossing patterns of tiles cover the floor and the walls, interrupted by stains of splattered blood. In artfully linear, uninvolved, documentary cinematography, the camera reveals first a solitary foot, chained to the leg of a chair. Then a pair of feet; a body; shackled arms; a head obscured by a hood of hessian cloth. This is a veritable torture chamber.
What follows is the inevitable interrogation by an intimidating interviewer (played by Brigitte Obermeier) who demands of the prisoner (Martin Hanns) a password. The interrogator invokes an eerie calm with the persistent, aggressive intention of someone in need of vital information.
While we sit here and get to know each other better, nine of my men have brought the president’s aircraft under their control. The autopilot directs the plane to the next airfield. There, security forces will try to rescue the president; i.e. they will certainly attack the aircraft. And the both of us don’t want anything to happen to my men, do we? Give me the password so my men can switch off the autopilot and I will not lay a finger on you.
The mood switches suddenly from foreshadowed unease to immediate danger, and the cinematography follows suit. Where before the camera moved with studied steadiness, it now takes on a participatory role, complete with the vigour of dramatic action. Though this action never leaves the chamber, and though shackles render the film’s protagonist immobile, the camera’s interactive angles and swift movements create dynamism in a space that would otherwise lie monotonous.
Give me the password!
Orchestral music (by Philip J. Drangmeister) grows and recedes organically from the dark recesses of the chamber: strings and heavy percussion lead the charge with sharp, jabbing lines that drive the dramatic motion forward, creating at times an eerie and charged atmosphere; at others they express full-blown terror.
As if to echo the changing dynamic, the interrogator invites her prisoner to participate in ‘the movie’ – of which he is the protagonist.
You scumbag, you think you’re very clever sitting there like an innocent bystander and waiting for the movie to end. Well, it will end. Time to free you from your spectator’s role.
The interrogation lasts for one hour, and it is an accomplishment that this short film manages to make believable this passage of time within the short scale of 17 minutes. The visual effects are, for the most part, convincing, and the editing (by Elvis Harbass) is well-executed: each strike of the interrogator feels real.
No less impressive is the reversed dramatic irony that forms the foundation of the action-based narrative. Beneath its surface of terror and violence, there are layers of unlikely, unexpected humour which reflect the distinction between ‘the movie’ and reality. The irony shows off the ability of the writer (Frédéric Gerth), the director (also Frédéric Gerth), and the film’s cast and crew to create humour in unlikely places – and to deceive the audience whilst staying true to the dramatic techniques of the genre. This is not malicious deception, however: rather than make fools of the audience, it invites a questioning of assumptions of narrative and the meaning underlying their subversion. This is a film whose subject goes deeper than the surface of its plot and whose range of interpretive possibility extends beyond the traditional boundaries of its genre. ■
Runtime: 17 minutes
Genre: Action, Satire, Short
Find out more
Find out more about this film and the work of independent German filmmaker Frédéric Gerth from the page for Be a Hero on Facebook as well as the page for Frédéric Gerth in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and the page for Frédéric Gerth’s film production company, Frédéric Gerth Mediengestaltung.
Frédéric Gerth is a Bavarian-based German independent filmmaker whose work as a sound recordist has appeared in such films as Hjem: Living at the End of the World, Trace of Light, and Stronger Than Blood. He works for the German television station Bayerischer Rundfunk and independently produces videos and commercials.
A trailer for Be a Hero can be viewed below:
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: A scene from ‘Be a Hero’. Frédéric Gerth Mediengestaltung.