A Decent Man proves to be a misleading title to this tense and nervy French drama. The direct translation of the original title Je ne suis pas un salaud – I Am Not a Bastard – is slightly more helpful in getting alarm bells ringing, for this is a perfectly judged character study that escalates to a shocking conclusion.
We are thrown off the scent a few times, firstly in the opening scene where a fresh faced Ahmed (Driss Ramdi), features in a corporate training video, showing the correct way for a sales rep to ingratiate himself upon a prospective client.
The main protagonist though is Eddy (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who is watching the video in a training session. Despite his efforts, he proves to have some difficulty putting the theory into action. Eddy has become somewhat of a drifter, separated from his wife Karine (Mélanie Thierry) and unable to hold down a job, he spends a lot of time drinking himself into a stupor.
One night while out on the town on his own, trying to pick up women, he brazenly tries to stop a group of youths from stealing a car radio. He ends up getting badly beaten, which ironically turns him into a bit of a hero, and redeems him in the eyes of Karine. She decides to give him one more chance, so he returns home, happy to be reunited with his son. Karine even arranges a job for Eddy where she works, at an Ikea type furniture store.
All is not well with Eddy though. He feels the forklift driving position is beneath him and he’s irrationally jealous about Karine’s good working relationship with their boss (Nicolas Bridet). Most disturbingly though, he’s being pressured by the police and the courts to confirm, incorrectly, that Ahmed is the man who stabbed him the night of the assault.
Over the ensuing months we see Eddy slip back into self destructive behaviour. He starts drinking more and he’s spending a lot of time at a gun range. Like another recent French film Moka, the introduction of a firearm, as per Chekhov’s theory, can only mean that someone at some point is going to use it.
As a character study, A Decent Man is highly engrossing. The devil is in the detail, and we watch with increasing discomfort as Eddy’s psychological issues insidiously accumulate. Duvauchelle, who’s been nominated for Best Actor at this year’s Cesars, is quite extraordinary. Thanks to his fine performance we remain fascinated by Eddy, despite the increasingly alienating nature of his behaviour.
Apart from the central issue of Eddy’s mental health and substance abuse, the film also tackles the issue of police victimization of ethnic minorities, and race relations in general in France, and it does so with an admirable even hand.
A Decent Man is a very considered, well judged drama that doesn’t provide any easy answers. It’s well worth seeing, but not for the faint of heart.
A Decent Man is currently available online at myfrenchfilmfestival.com
Richard Leathem @dickiegee