DIR: Thomas Cailley • WRI: Jeffrey Hatcher • PRO: Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Emile Sherman • DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • MUS: Carter Burwell • DES: Martin Childs • CAST: Kévin Azais, Adele Haenel
Les Combattants, or Love at First Sight, tells the story of Arnaud, a young Frenchman who agrees to help his brother keep the family carpentry business going after the death of their father. When he’s not helping his brother pitch and build a variety of gazebos, he’s happy to laze and fool around with his two best friends. While the three are hitting up an army recruitment event for free merchandise, Arnaud ends up in a self-defence class sparring, to his shock, with a combatant of the female variety. When she turns out to have more ferocity than he can handle, and, with his macho pride on the line, Arnaud takes a perhaps less than honourable approach to defeat the girl, Madeleine, and makes a quick escape. Before too long, he and his brother are pitching a new gazebo to her parents and he’s suddenly face to face with the victim of his cheating ways and he finds himself unable to take his eyes off her long enough to focus on his work.
When things eventually thaw between them, he learns that she’s a survivalist, pretty strongly convinced that humanity’s days are not highly numbered and doing everything she can to prepare herself for the moment society collapses. This involves a stint in the army and a summer training camp, which Arnaud opts to tag along to much like a lost little puppy or an obsessive man, depending on your perspective. Over the course of the film and the training camp, the characters bounce off each other, finding small ways to become closer, which her rigorous training schedule and his pride might not otherwise allow.
The two leads perform marvellously, showcasing an emotional connection between two characters who aren’t entirely able to express themselves and demonstrating some of the subtleties of human emotion that are often overlooked. The plot similarly charms, offering up surprises and genuine humour without becoming over the top. The strength of this film lies in the small moments between characters, the silences and interactions that could be mistaken for small talk. The entire cast of characters are brash, unpolished and unapologetic, creating honest interaction and very simple, but powerful scenes. While this film may contain many of the notes of a romantic-comedy, it amounts to a much more complex and rewarding type of film.
In short, Les Combattants is a rom-com which rejects the tropes of the genre, or at least sees them from a new perspective. It is a look at a France that is going through hard times and a romantic story for a generation that has grown up being told the world is falling apart. These characters aren’t looking to fix the world, or even each other. They are looking to survive, despite their very different ideas of what that really means.
Les Combattants offers an original, charming and honest take on romantic cinema.
Les Combattants is released 19th June 2015