Les Combattants (Love at First Fight) - Directed by Thomas Cailley, winner of Best First Film at the French Cesar Awards.
Simon Morris finds a surprise winner in this small French film called Les Combattants (Love at first fight), in which two people fall in love after she beats him up.
I’d not heard of Les Combattants when it arrived unheralded at my local art-house. But the film’s got a solid track-record, at both the French Cesars, where it picked up a number of awards, and at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Justifiably, it turns out.
Les Combatants was written and directed by a first-timer called Thomas Cailley, and stars newcomers Kevin Azais and Adele Haenel. Kevin plays Arnaud, a nice young chap who’s being reluctantly pushed into joining the family carpentry business. He’s got no other plans, which is why he’s loafing on the beach, where some army recruiters invite him to show off his self-defence skills.
Arnaud is shocked to discover he’s matched against a woman – imposing riot-girl Madeleine, played by Adele. He protests he doesn’t fight women, only to be unceremoniously upended by her, to the amusement of his friends. Madeleine is convinced the world is coming to an abrupt end, sooner rather than later, and so she’s decided to prepare for it.
It’s the old “opposites don’t attract” scenario at the start. Arnaud becomes besotted with Madeleine, but thinks she could lighten up, or at least give him a smile occasionally. Madeleine doesn’t think Arnaud is treating the coming apocalypse seriously enough.
Les combatants is part road-movie, part quirky romantic comedy, and part something else and very French. I’ve heard it described as “outlaw”. It certainly breaks the rules of this kind of story. The aims of both characters shift and change throughout the film, and the climax when it comes is genuinely unexpected.
Can the two find each other before the end of the world? Or will they simply drive each other nuts? The answers may not exactly surprise you, but Les Combatants is eminently satisfying and delightful.