Love at First Fight
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