See You Up There
Brandon Richardson | 19/02/2018
Au revoir là-haut (See you up there) is a film about immoral men performing immoral acts to prey on vulnerable families struck down by the tragedy of war. It is a testament to Albert Dupontel’s skill as writer, director and actor that such seemingly detestable story is as enjoyable as it is.
Just days before the Armistice of WW1, the lives of French soldiers Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel) and Eduoard Pericourt (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) become irreversibly intertwined. Fighting in the same platoon, they are ordered into a senseless battle by Lieutenant Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte). Eduoard saves Albert’s life, but suffers gruesome facial injuries in the process. Albert, now indebted to Eduoard, abandons his pre-war life to care for him, no matter the cost. Eduoard, a talented artist, hatches a devious scam to exploit grieving families. The pair become engrossed in a struggle between extreme greed and extreme immorality, all the while attempting to thwart Pradelle’s own plans for post-war profiteering.
Writing, directing and starring in this adaptation of the french novel of the same name, Albert Dupontel takes to bold move of presenting a narrative in which there is no one who is truly good. Pradelle, as the most despicable character, has no issue murdering his own infantryman for the sake of perpetuating battle. Eduoard, although gifted, becomes addicted to morphine and self-pity before hatching his diabolical plan to rob those who have already lost so much to the War. Although by far the most redeemable character and certainly a victim to dire circumstance, Maillard still finds himself robbing the crippled of their much needed pain relief to fuel Eduoard’s drug habit, and the primary accomplice to Eduoard’s evil scheme. Despite all this, Dupontel executes his character with such a sense of goofy misfortune that the audience can’t help but find themselves cheering for his distasteful acts.
Accompanying this bold narrative is an equally striking visual style every bit as eclectic as the masks crafted by Eduoard to hide his scars. Dupontel contrasts the dark and ominous graphics of brutal WW1 battles with the vibrant opulence of a Paris entering the Années folles era. He wisely employs the former style to frame both Eduoards morphine addiction as well as Pradelle’s exploits, reminding us that war continues to wreak havoc long after it officially ends. Likewise, the costume design helps to faithfully create a sense of elegance and exuberance that reflects the culture of the time.
Unfortunately, the film is let down by its reliance on the retrospective narration style. Reminiscent of films like The Usual Suspect, the story unfolds through Maillard recounting his tale to police officers in Morocco that have thwarted his escape attempts. Naturally, this creates an exposition style heavily reliant on narration to keep the audience informed, detracting from the creativity of the visual style, although this really only bogs down the beginning of the film. Dupontel also tacks on an ambiguous plot twist at the end which makes little sense or impact, and is more confusing than intriguing. However, these flaws do little to detract from the overall artistry of the film.
Whether it be for the arresting story, engrossing visuals or the authentic feel of an early 1900s France, there is something Albert Dupontel’s Au revoir là-haut to capture the fascination of all audience members.