Between his friends and the family business, Arnaud's summer looks set to be a peaceful one. Peaceful until he runs into Madeleine, as beautiful as she is brusque, a concrete block of ...
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Summer in a new suburb outside Paris. Nothing to do but look at the ceiling. Marie, Anne and Floriane are 15. Their paths cross in the corridors at the local swimming pool, where love and desire make a sudden, dramatic appearance.
Between his friends and the family business, Arnaud's summer looks set to be a peaceful one. Peaceful until he runs into Madeleine, as beautiful as she is brusque, a concrete block of tensed muscles and doomsday prophecies. He expects nothing; she prepares for the worst. He takes things as they come, likes a good laugh. She fights, runs, swims, pushes herself to the limit. Given she hasn't asked him for anything, just how far will he go along with her? It's a love story. Or a story of survival. Or both. Written by
One more "Boy Meets Girl" story? Just another Rom-Com? Not really. First things first, you will never prevent boys from meeting girls and the reverse, so there will always be love stories and thank heaven for them when they manage to rise above the clichés and the cheesiness too many of them bathe in. A defect mercifully avoided by this particular affair of the heart. A mere look at the title ("Les Combattants" - literally "The Fighters" -) is an obvious guarantee that you will be spared the stale old exasperating Cha Ba Da Ba Da tale. Actually, neither the characters nor the situation are conventional or predictable. Take our young Romeo for example: Arnaud is a young carpenter who does not show any real passion for his trade. Docile, mild-mannered and easy-going, he takes life as it comes; in other words he still has to find himself. For her part Madeleine, the girl he meets, has little in common with the frail, sensitive Juliet. Three adjectives best qualify her: brusque, burly and nihilistic. Completely out of this world, the horsey lady has an obsession: mastering survival skills in order to... get through the end of the world! As you can see, not the standard Rom-Com, all the more as the stereotypical gender roles are reversed: Miss Headstrong is the dominant one while Mr. Least Line of Resistance yields and follows... at least for a time.
For all the rhetoric, though, this is a love story. Even if it looks just the opposite. Even if it is set in a more and more unusual context as the minutes pass. And it is precisely the odd settings and the crazy story developments that prevent boredom. Unique in its kind "Les combattants' has romance bloom... within the framework of a training session for wannabee paratroopers and, a little later, in the middle of a survival experience in the grip of untamed nature!
Nothing wishy-washy to fear as you can see. On the contrary in the end you will have been told the touchingly serious story of two creatures who attract each other but have to struggle to find who they really are and to make out how they can relate to each other satisfyingly. Another quality of Thomas Cailley and Claude Le Pape's screenplay, lies in the fact the two characters, a bit caricatural at the beginning, evolve in the course of the action and gain in depth. The last added value is the film's interesting examination of what it is like to be young in today's France, a country once prosperous and proud of itself which now seems to have lost its bearings. Both Madeleine and Arnaud, each in their manner, are disoriented and do not know where they are going. A statement that, by extension, can be applied to a big share of French youth and brings the movie a rich sociological touch.
Always where you least expect him, Thomas Cailley succeeds in combining several genres (documentary, comedy, romance, psychological study, army movie, disaster movie) without ever sinking into confusion. So much so that "Les combattants" appears as a unique example of its kind. Well-served by its actors (delusively bland Kevin Azaïs and always under pressure Adèle Haenel), it will surprise and amuse you while giving you - Thank God in a casual way - food for thought.
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