But, the thing is, they didn’t. As the credits roll, the curtain is pulled back, to reveal that it was all a show. Actors playing the parts, a writer concocting the story . . . the whole nine yards. It’s not a documentary, just a regular movie. Maybe that’s a spoiler, but I don’t think so. Looking up the movie on IMDb will quickly tell you exactly the same thing. But, if you’re like me and didn’t look up the film until after watching it, you might have easily gotten taken in. Or maybe you wouldn’t have. After all, the movie is about the possible existence of real-life superheroes. Who would actually believe that?
But, they do a surprisingly good job of keeping the film grounded in reality. The point of the film isn’t to say, “Yes! Superheroes are real and we have proof!” Instead, they show a debate, with evidence and doubt on both sides. What they do is to build up the possibility that these things might exist—things for which there isn’t an entirely rational explanation.
Admittedly, there are a few bits that seem a little too convenient, events that are a little too cinematic, characters who are a little too one-note . . . but there are plenty of real documentaries that play out that way, too. Any documentary is shaped by the editing to present the story the filmmaker wants to tell. The right filmmaker can easily make real events seem like a movie plot. Or, conversely, they can make a movie plot seem like real events.
The superhero of this film is “Mon Protecteur,” whom they claim is a French folk hero/urban legend—a mythical man who showed up mysteriously during World War II and periodically rescued a number of soldiers, remaining seemingly unaffected by the hailstorm of bullets around him.
Before watching this movie, I looked up “Mon Protecteur” to see what I could find and dug up an ultra-cheesy, black-and-white clip claiming to be from an old French TV show (later badly dubbed into English), as well as a brief blurb about the hero and the several decades of real-life debate over the possibility of his existence.
Except that the clip, the blurb, and apparently the entire character of Mon Protecteur were also created just for the movie. As I said, they really went out of their way to make this story seem real.
The film’s protagonist is Gerard Martinez (Ricky Wayne), a former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covered the Gulf War, but quit the game when he saw the horrible things that human beings do to each other. He, instead, dedicates his life to studying and ultimately tracking down Mon Protecteur, whom he believes saved his life in Iraq. And, all the while, he becomes more obsessed, and less stable, until finally he shoots up a museum full of people, in the hope that the hero will intervene.
Meanwhile, we’re treated to a plethora of interviews with experts, witnesses, and more, on the legend of Mon Protecteur and the people he’s reportedly saved. Going on the assumption that this is a real documentary, and that Mon Protecteur is a genuine French legend, it’s easy to start to wonder if there might be some kernel of truth behind the stories. And, disappointing to learn that there isn’t.
Eventually, Martinez meets Delsin (Emilio Roso), a reclusive man who claims to be Mon Protecteur. This meeting begins to turn Martinez’s obsession into full blown madness. The film posits that Delsin may have been a lunatic himself, or perhaps a con man trying to take advantage of Martinez’s obsession. Maybe both. At any rate, even laboring under the conviction that this is a genuine documentary, it’s difficult to take Delsin’s story at face value. It’s one thing to say, “Superheroes might exist,” but quite another to say, “And, here’s an interview with one!” But, by this time, Martinez has already largely gone off the deep end. Even if we don’t believe the story, it’s easy to see how he might believe it.
So, if this movie isn’t a documentary, then what is it? I guess it’s sort of a twisted superhero story, but it’s not really satisfying on that level. It’s more satisfying as a character study, both of Martinez, with his descent into madness, and of Delsin, who may be mad, or who may be mythic.
To be honest, though, it’s hard to judge the film’s merits as a work of fiction when you’re looking at it as a documentary. It makes it a very different story. Is it still a worthwhile story? Maybe. It’s less compelling as fiction than as fact, which makes it a little disappointing overall. But, it still has some good elements in it. It’s at least worth a look. But, more than that, I can’t really say. Because if you do watch this movie, your experience is sure to be very different from mine.
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