Dir.: Thomas Cailley
Cast: Adele Haenel, Kevin Azais, Antoine Laurent, Brigitte Rouan
Drama France 2014, 98 min.
Two outsiders, Madeleine (Haenel) and Arnaud (Azais) meet o the beach of a sleepy town in the region Alps/Maritime. This sounds as good as any romantic cliché, but their meeting is anything but sexy, because they are facing each other in a judo fight.
First time writer/director Thomas Cailley’s LES COMBATTANTS is the very opposite of a glossy French teenage romance. To start with Arnaud bites Madeleine after he is in danger of losing the fight, witnessed by his brother Manu (Laurent) and his mates. Whilst Madeleine does not tell anyone about his outburst, she will remind Arnaud more than often of his cowardice. The young man has just lost his father and is supposed to join his brother in running a carpentry business. In this capacity he soon meets Madeleine again, when he starts to erect a wooden beach house near the swimming pool on her parent’s property. Needless to say, his carpentry expertise is as bad as his judo skills and his half completed construction is soon blown apart by a storm; to the chagrin of his brother. But Arnaud and Madeleine have found common ground: they both want to get out of the boring middle-class environment they inhabit. Madeleine, who has just left university without completing the course, believes strongly that apocalypse is soon to happen. She prepares for the end-of-time scenario by toughening herself up with constant exercises and a disgusting diet, with includes eating a whole fish, whizzed up in the mixer. When she decides to join the marines for a preparatory army course, Arnaud follows her, abandoning his brother and mother Helene (Rouan). But the debacle doesn’t end successfully in this love story which ends up being a fight for survival.
Adele Haenel (Water Lilies/Suzanne) carries LES COMBATTANTS with a lively and intense performance. Her Madeleine still longs to be a tomboy, long into her adolescence. She is unaware that this image is just her way in pretending to be tough, as not to be found out how vulnerable and insecure she really is. Whilst she knows exactly what she does not want in life (middle-class security), she has no idea what she wants instead, and her experience shows, that she is far too independent for such a hierarchical life style. Arnaud on the other hand, behaves like every average man with the first woman he shows an interest in: he follows her obediently like a puppy. But is fascinating, how Cailley brings their combined weaknesses and strengths together in a rather dramatic finale. Shot in lively colours from innovative perspectives, by the director’s brother David, Les Combattants is as original as it is moving, never succumbing to any preconceived ideas, thus emulating the couple’s unruly and idiosyncratic behaviour within a narrative that develops just at the right tempo allowing us enough time to get to know this offbeat couple. AS
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