France’s most controversial director delivers one of its most beautiful films in years.
Introducing the film, the director of the 2018 Alliance Française French Film Festival slipped in a cautionary adjective, referring to Albert Dupontel as one of France’s most ‘controversial directors.’ Dupontel is known for his boundary pushing comedy and darkly comic films, so introducing him this way before his latest, See You Up There (Au Revoir La Haut), he seemed to be warning us.
We needn’t have worried. Though accurate with regards to his earlier work, See You Up There is in contrast a delightful adventure film with comic performances and a wonderful, if warped, sense of wonder. As my friend, pointed out, who’s French and much more familiar with Dupontel’s work than I am, the controversial filmmaker’s association with the conflicted with what we actually saw, a film that doesn’t need to shock its audiences in order to impress them.
Set during the first World War and based on the novel by Pierre Lemaitre, the film opens on a battlefield. Despite working with his budget yet, Dupontel infuses the scene with intimacy, as the camera swoops over the battle-scarred land and scattered soldiers, eventually settling on a dog and following it through the twisting trenches. We meet Albert Maillard (Dupontel) who, after being almost buried alive due to a suicidal mission courtesy of the captain, Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte), is rescued by Edouard Pericourt (Perez Biscayart). Edouard’s face is disfigured in the grenade blast that nearly buries his friend, a wound revealed in an upsetting later scene in the hospital.
The tale spun by the novelist and filmmaker (working partly in tandem on the script) reaches those rare moments of reminding us why we go to the movies: To see the strange (Edouard hides his disfigurement with a spellbinding array of masks), and beautiful (the period is lovingly captured and the mansions are lavish) intermingling on a big screen, while a thrilling plot keeps us involved. Centrally the film is a buddy picture, with the goofy Maillard and mysterious, morphine addicted Edouard coming up with all sorts of capers to rebuild their lives. They’re soon joined by orphan Pauline (Héloïse Balster) who translates for Edouard who can’t be understood due to his gravelly voice.
Some of the plot’s many twists and turns are skimmed over quickly, making it a bit of a job to keep up with, but Dupontel regularly stops to revel in something fantastic, like the absurd dinner party that results in a politically motivated faux-execution, or the dance number with Louise, Edouard and Albert. These moments put a smile on your face, much as the others will shock or frighten—much of Dupontel’s film is what the movies are all about.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
The 2018 Alliance Française French Film Festival is running all of Melbourne’s Palace Cinemas and the Astor Theatre from 28 February to 27 March. The venues are wheelchair accessible.
See You Up There is showing at the Palace Cinemas for the duration of the festival. Tickets are available on the website.