UP FOR LOVE/HOMME A LA HAUTEUR. France, 2016. Starring Jean Dujardin, Virginie Efira, Cedric Kahn, Stephanie Papanian. Directed by Laurent Tirard. 98 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language).
This English title is playful in regard to the central theme of the film and the French title, Homme a la Hauteur (A Man up to, equal to…). While it is a romantic comedy, it is comedy with a difference, often of lightness of touch but, more often, with serious undertones.
The central character is a dwarf.
He is Alexandre, played with a genial smile and charm, reminding audiences of his Oscar-winning performance in The Artist, by Jean Dujardin. The object of his romance is a rather tall woman, Diane, played by Virginie Efira. (She could pass as something of a double for American actress, Katherine Heigl, who could take on the role were there to be an American remake.)
On the romance side the film has a charm because of Alexandre’s personality, his acceptance of his height, a genial and friendly man who has learned to put up with jibes about his height or with being ignored (a scene where a man on his mobile phone walks into Alexandre and knocks him down without even noticing). Alexandre has been married but is in a good relationship with his ex-wife, has a son (very tall) whom he willingly and lovingly supports, and is an expert architect involved in a project extending the opera house in Liege.
Diane, on the other hand, is divorced from her philandering husband, Bruno (played by writer-director Cedric Kahn) but he is still her partner in a law office, assisted by their somewhat ditzy but ultimately wise secretary, Coralie. When she loses her mobile phone and is contacted by Alexandre who reveals that he has witnessed a restaurant clash between her and Bruno, Diane meets Alexandre to retrieve the phone and finds him instantly congenial – and then he dares her to do something different, in fact skydiving from a plane.
The film shows the growing friendship, then love between the two. While the height issue provides the basis for jokes, it also provides a basis for Diane to understand Alexandre better. But, he makes her realise that she has been ‘hiding’ him from her friends – which leads to his meeting her mother at an art gallery exhibition, having a meal with her mother and stepfather, and Coralie then finding out and telling Bruno. The screenplay makes a point about disabilities by having Diane’s stepfather deaf, finding it difficult during a meal to hear exactly what is being said and misinterpreting words – and later telling his rather intolerant wife that she lives with someone who is disabled but she is the one who is truly disabled.
There has to come a time when Diane has to acknowledge whether she is able to live with the reality of Alexandre’s height and its consequences, some very rueful moments in the film for her and for Alexandre himself.
And the screenplay poses the question, how will Diane actually persuade Alexandre that she truly loves him and means it – why not another skydive!
Alexandre and Diane are quite attractive characters and so are able to carry the initially seemingly unlikely romance, the comic episodes as well as the serious implications of the situation – which means that this romantic comedy becomes something of an engaging moral fable and lesson.
Icon Released December 8th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.