France is dead. The recession has left the young directionless. Jobs are thin on the ground and the military recruitment teams are on roving patrol, looking to scoop up anyone McDonalds hasn’t already gotten to. The town’s young locals are either listlessly drifting along with little thought to their future, or running off to Saskatoon in search of the brightly lit excitement of a more cosmopolitan lifestyle. Or was that Saskatchewan? Arnaud (Kevin Azaïs), one of the more listless, faces a summer spent attempting to take over the family carpentry business with his more dutiful older brother, following the death of their father. He has no designs on running off to Canada; he has no designs on much of anything. He’s content enough building pool-houses for his clients and doing his best not to think too deeply. But what will he do when society crumbles? Not even the Mormons could survive that for more than a year.
The threat of global terrorism, war or even a good, old-fashioned natural disaster isn’t something Arnaud has ever given much thought to. That is until he meets would-be survivalist Madeleine (Adèle Haenel) who promptly sweeps him off his feet, quite literally, after he’s been shoved into a wrestling match with her during an army recruitment drive. Emasculated but keen, and despite Madeleine’s disinterest towards him and just about anything else short of the end of the world, Arnaud finds himself increasingly besotted and elects to put his family duties on hold in favour of following her to boot camp.
Littered with romantic quirkiness and held together with comic poise, the script exudes youthful warmth even in its most cynical moments. The off-hand dialogue between the two lead characters is carried excellently by the actors cast into the roles. Haenel shines brightest of the two, assisted by her character’s aggressively nihilistic outlook and unusual training regime, but Azaïs is equally convincing, playing the bemused straight man to her naïve brand of militancy. Thomas Cailley’s first feature film, Les Combattants (Love at First Fight), is a refreshingly unconventional attempt at a rom-com, which touches lightly on a number of issues confronting today’s young adults. Deserving of the praise it received at Cannes last year, this is a light-hearted and inescapably likeable debut film that should appeal to the indie and international markets, even if its peculiarities leave it falling short of a more mainstream audience.
Les Combattants (Love at First Fight) is released nationwide on 12th June 2015.
Watch the trailer for Les Combattants here: