Starring: Adèle Haenel, Kévin Azaïs, Antoine Laurent
Genre: Comedy/ Drama/ World Cinema
Young Arnaud (Azaïs) looks set to have a peaceful summer working for his brother when he meets the beautiful but also infuriatingly aloof Madeliene (Haenel). Her unique approach to life fascinates Arnaud, and when she joins an army boot camp to learn survival skills, he decides to join her in an attempt to impress her.
Romance is of course depicted in many ways on the screen, and it is usually best to look overseas for the more unique and interesting depictions of this universal phenomenon. Though Thomas Cailley’s film certainly contains a few initial narrative contrivances to set the main story up, what ensues is a genuinely enjoyable and engaging romance that takes a few refreshingly surprising and unique developments. It has been cynically labelled as a ‘feel-good comedy’ which is a stigma that always makes me shudder, and though Les Combattants does have some subtle humour and a feel-good element at times, there is far more substance to it and it is far, far more than its derogatory tag of ‘feel-good comedy’.
In what is essentially a character driven narrative, for a narrative of this kind we need to be given character to believe in and thanks to the great script and two great performances, we are given two extremely likeable and intriguing characters. Adèle Haenel and Kévin Azaïs are excellent in their roles and both deliver performances that help to make the unique characteristics of each of their characters both convincing and fascinating.
After a slow-burn start to establish the characters, it is when our two protagonists join the boot camp that the main plot starts to happen. With character driven narratives there is always the risk that the director will lose control of his film and it will feel like it is being made up as it is going along. Thankfully Thomas Cailley writes and directs with assured confidence and always does feel in control of his film; he keeps the dialogue to an effective minimum and though there are some unexpected developments in the film’s final third, they do add to both the themes the narrative explores and the protagonist’s respective arcs.
Visually Les Combattants is also stunningly put together, only adding to its immersive qualities, with some stunning shots and camerawork from Cailley. Meanwhile David Cailley’s sun-drenched cinematography and a superb electro-funk score from Philippe Deshaies, Lionel Flairs and Benoit Rault (collectively referred to as Hit+Run) only enhance the involvement and enjoyment of the film. Les Combattants may have at the centre of its narrative one of the more unconventional of romances, but it is actually one of the more convincing and engaging.
Despite some initial narrative contrivances, thanks to two great performances and a genuinely inventive script, Les Combattants is a truly enjoyable and engaging film, and features one of the more unconventional but yet genuinely convincing romances of recent times.