FILM: Les Combattants

Les Combattants or Love at First Sight to use its less appealing English title is a French romantic comedy from first time director Thomas Cailley. At the films’ centre are Arnaud (Kevin Azais) and Madeleine (Adele Haenel): two unlikely lovers who come together one summer at an army training camp.

The film opens with Arnaud and his brother Manu (Antoine Laurent) arguing with the undertaker over their inferior wood offerings for their father’s coffin and so decide to build one themselves. The unexplained death of their father seems to have little emotional impact on the two boys but leaves them to run the family construction business.

Arnaud looks set to while away his summer with his friends at the beach and helping his brother with the family business. His path crosses with Madeleine when they are forced to face off in a fight at an army recruitment event. Arnaud, not wanting to be beaten by a girl, resorts to an uncouth fighting tactic: biting, in order to win the tussle.

Arnaud must soon face Madeleine again as she turns out to be the daughter to some new clients who wish to have a shed constructed in their garden. Arnaud and Madeleine have somewhat conflicting outlooks on life, he seems to be happy drifting through the summer with his friends and brother whereas she is focused on joining the toughest regiment in the army and spends her days swimming with roof tiles loaded on her back.

Madeleine has a bleak outlook on where the world is heading. Human extinction, according to her, will become a reality in the next decade. Perhaps inspired by her determination or just bored of the prospect of spending the summer constructing seemingly needless sheds for rich families, his first attempt at which goes drastically wrong, Arnaud decides to follow Madeleine to a two week army training camp.

The first half of the film is peppered with a few laughs, mostly coming from Madeleine- her bleak outlook and determination to be in the hardest regiment: at one point she liquidizes a raw fish and eats it- and the push, pull relationship between her and Arnaud.

The film has little depth and does not try to make any particular political statements about the army or the environment but instead is a sweet romance set against the backdrop of a hot but changeable French landscape. What starts as a promising beginning is lost in the third act as we enter familiar territory as the protagonists attempt to cut themselves off from society and live wild and free.

I was reminded of the infinitely better and much more poignant Kings of Summer, in which a trio of boys decide to live in the woods away from the toils of real life, ‘finding themselves’ in a much less clichéd fashion than they do in Les Combattants.

Niki Alexandrou


Niki Alexandrou

Niki Alexandrou

Niki Alexandrou

Latest posts by Niki Alexandrou (see all)