AU REVOIR LA HAUT/ SEE YOU UP THERE FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL France, 2017 Starring Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Albert Dupontel, Laurent Lafitte, Niels Arestrup, Emilie Dequenne, Melanie Thierry, Louise Balster, Philippe Uchan Directed by Albert Dupontel. 118 minutes. Rated MA (strong sex scenes).
This is an impressive French film which can be recommended.
The audience is taken back into French history in 1918-1919. While there have been many films on World War I and the role of the French (Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is an excellent film of reference), this film takes us behind the scenes of the trenches and the brutal warfare in the fields, especially on the two days before the signing of the armistice. But, the film goes on from there, looking at the consequences of the war, the effect on the lives of soldiers, those who survived, those who survived with deep physical and psychological consequences.
The film actually opens in Morocco with Albert, Albert Dupontel, who both wrote the film and directed it as well as acting the central role, being interrogated about a fraud concerning war memorials. This is an alert at the beginning of the film, the action returning at various times to this interrogation. But the film is mainly the flashbacks which Albert is telling to the investigating officer.
Which takes us to the trenches, Albert, Edoouard, a young man who is an artist and Pradelle, a sadistic officer who relishes war rather than peace and is prepared to send his men over the top even though the armistice is about to be signed. Not only does he send his men over the top, he rather relishes their dying or being wounded in action and, in fact, shoots two of the men that he sends out as scouts in the back. He is to appear significantly as the action goes on.
Albert is saved by the artist, Edouard (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) but Edouard himself is wounded severely, saved by Albert, taken to a hospital where a nun reminds him that he is sharing in the sufferings of Christ (not so persuasive for the injured man), who needs some reconstruction on his face and, subsequently, will have to wear a mask. (He is an artist and designs quite a range of masks for himself).
We see the life of the veterans. Albert is poor, his fiancee gives him up, he tries various jobs, is a lift driver, is a placard advertiser. Edouard, on the other hand lives in seclusion, painting, being helped by a sympathetic young girl who is able to understand his muffled words and communicate for him.
Edouard’s father is a wealthy man, estranged from his son (Niels Arestrup). His daughter seeks out Albert, tries to find out what has happened to Edouard – and there is a scheme by Edouard to assume another identity and for people to think that he is dead. Unfortunately, the sadistic officer from the trenches, Pradelle (Laurence Lafitte) becomes involved, marrying the daughter, exploiting war grave situations with Chinese labourers and small coffins, knowing the truth about Albert and Edouard.
And the fraud? There is a great movement for war memorials in France in 1919, Edouard’s father even investing in one. There are competitions for design – which, of course, Edouard enters into. He sets up false companies, takes investments, exploiting and thieving the money.
This means that there is plenty of plot, unusual characters, fine characterisations, some empathy for Edouard and yet questions about his integrity, with a very moving and disturbing final sequence concerning his father.
And, at the end of Albert’s interrogation in Morocco, there is an interesting twist – and Albert can have a future.
French Film Festival until the end of March
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.