Love at First Fight

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Priyanka Ku­mar

Love at First Fight, drama, not rated, in French with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Ti­tles are im­por­tant. They tell us what a film is about. Love at First Fight says love story, and that’s how this film is be­ing mar­keted to Amer­i­can au­di­ences. The film’s orig­i­nal ti­tle, Les Com­bat­tants (The Fighters), is more apro­pos. The first half of Thomas Cail­ley’s de­but fea­ture is as much about ideas as it is about friend­ship. The French may be more open to idea films than we are. Or maybe some­one just needs to trust Amer­i­can au­di­ences and call a film what it is.

Madeleine (Adèle Haenel) be­lieves that hu­mans are headed for ex­tinc­tion and drops out of uni­ver­sity so she can learn some­thing use­ful — how to sur­vive. To this end, she signs up for a train­ing camp at an elite army unit. Be­fore her de­par­ture, she makes an im­pres­sion on Ar­naud (Kévin Azaïs), a young man who has re­turned home to help his brother run their de­ceased fa­ther’s car­pen­try busi­ness.

Ar­naud isn’t sure what he thinks about Madeleine’s alarmist ideas. But he’s not go­ing to worry him­self over them. A builder of gar­den sheds, he knows what he’s about. He’s mak­ing one for Madeleine’s par­ents, next to their swim­ming pool. Still, he’s in­trigued enough to drop ev­ery­thing and join Madeleine at the camp.

It’s tricky for films to cap­ture that in-be­tween time — a mix­ture of gid­di­ness and anx­i­ety — when young peo­ple are fig­ur­ing out what path they’ll take in life. The film con­veys that pe­riod’s charm and un­cer­tainty, not the least of which is geo­graphic un­cer­tainty. One friend tells Ar­naud that “France is dead” and he’s go­ing to Saska­toon where he can at least learn some English. An­other friend re­sponds, “I thought you were go­ing to Canada.”

At first, Madeleine is in­tro­duced as the kind of freak who puts a large fish into a juicer and drinks it up. We slowly warm to her as she floun­ders in army train­ing camp. When Madeleine and Ar­naud desert a train­ing as­sign­ment and at­tempt in­stead to sur­vive in the for­est, they fish and make tem­po­rary shel­ters. Ar­naud tells Madeleine that one sur­vival skill is the abil­ity to do noth­ing, to be able to, say, stick pine nee­dles in the dirt with­out break­ing them. The med­i­ta­tive mo­ment il­lus­trates how he’s ca­pa­ble of deeper si­lence than her.

The film treads a nice bal­ance be­tween drama and hu­mor, and it fo­cuses on the sen­si­tiv­ity of young peo­ple rather than treat­ing them, more con­ven­tion­ally, as clue­less an­i­mals. It won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. Though it doesn’t fol­low up on Madeleine’s ideas and moves to­ward a more sim­plis­tic nar­ra­tive, the film shows that en­ter­tain­ing sto­ries can be made about global warm­ing, which has be­come a sig­na­ture is­sue of our times.

Sur­vivors: Kévin Azaïs and Adèle Haenel

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