SEE YOU UP THERE/AU REVOIR LA HAUT
France, 2017, 118 minutes, Colour.
Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Albert Dupontel, Laurent Lafitte, Niels Arestrup, Emilie Dequenne, Melanie Thierry, Louise Balster, Philippe Uchan.
Directed by Albert Dupontel.
This is an impressive French film which can be recommended.
The audience is taken back into French history in 1918-1919. While there have been many films on World War I and the role of the French (Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is an excellent film of reference), this film takes us behind the scenes of the trenches and the brutal warfare in the fields, especially on the two days before the signing of the armistice. But, the film goes on from there, looking at the consequences of the war, the effect on the lives of soldiers, those who survived, those who survived with deep physical and psychological consequences.
The film actually opens in Morocco with Albert, Albert Dupontel, who both wrote the film and directed it as well as acting the central role, being interrogated about a fraud concerning war memorials. This is an alert at the beginning of the film, the action returning at various times to this interrogation. But the film is mainly the flashbacks which Albert is telling to the investigating officer.
Which takes us to the trenches, Albert, Edoouard, a young man who is an artist and Pradelle, a sadistic officer who relishes war rather than peace and is prepared to send his men over the top even though the armistice is about to be signed. Not only does he send his men over the top, he rather relishes their dying or being wounded in action and, in fact, shoots two of the men that he sends out as scouts in the back. He is to appear significantly as the action goes on.
Albert is saved by the artist, Edouard (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) but Edouard himself is wounded severely, saved by Albert, taken to a hospital where a nun reminds him that he is sharing in the sufferings of Christ (not so persuasive for the injured man), who needs some reconstruction on his face and, subsequently, will have to wear a mask. (He is an artist and designs quite a range of masks for himself).
We see the life of the veterans. Albert is poor, his fiancee gives him up, he tries various jobs, is a lift driver, is a placard advertiser. Edouard, on the other hand lives in seclusion, painting, being helped by a sympathetic young girl who is able to understand his muffled words and communicate for him.
Edouard’s father is a wealthy man, estranged from his son (Niels Arestrup). His daughter seeks out Albert, tries to find out what has happened to Edouard – and there is a scheme by Edouard to assume another identity and for people to think that he is dead. Unfortunately, the sadistic officer from the trenches, Pradelle (Laurence Lafitte) becomes involved, marrying the daughter, exploiting war grave situations with Chinese labourers and small coffins, knowing the truth about Albert and Edouard.
And the fraud? There is a great movement for war memorials in France in 1919, Edouard’s father even investing in one. There are competitions for design – which, of course, Edouard enters into. He sets up false companies, takes investments, exploiting and thieving the money.
This means that there is plenty of plot, unusual characters, fine characterisations, some empathy for Edouard and yet questions about his integrity, with a very moving and disturbing final sequence concerning his father.
And, at the end of Albert’s interrogation in Morocco, there is an interesting twist – and Albert can have a future.
1. Strong French drama? 20th century history? Social concerns? France in World War I, in the 1920s?
2. The images of war, the trenches, hospitals, recuperation, department stores, apartments, wealthy mansions, clubs? The tributes to the war, monuments? Buildings on building sites? Cemeteries? The musical score?
3. The framework: Morocco, Albert and his being questioned? The indication of fraud and crimes? The flashbacks to the experience of war, the aftermath, the fraud? Intercutting with the interview? The cumulative effect?
4. Albert, in himself, age, his life, luck and survival? The encounter with Edouard in the trenches? His life being saved by Edouard, suffering, recovery? His fiancée rejecting him? The encounter with Pauline, in love with her?
5. The war sequences, the day before Armistice, the trenches, Pradelle and his bellicose attitudes, loving war, sending the man over the top, their reluctance, the orders, his surveillance, shooting his men in the back? The attack on the German trenches, the deaths and injuries? Edouard saving Albert? Albert helping Edouard, his wounds, his face? The Armistice and the unnecessary deaths before it?
6. Post-war France, 1919? Albert, his work, in the department store, the lift? Edouard and his face, the long hospital treatment, the nun and her comment on Jesus suffering? His need for morphine? His decision to die, Albert taking the file of a dead man, taking a name? The fake death? The information given to his father and his sister? The discussions with Pradelle, his hold over them, finding an anonymous grave, the exhumation, the irony that it was a Senegalese soldier? Being buried in the family tomb?
7. Louise, age, the visits, on the streets? Seeing Edouard’s face, communicating with him? Her ability to hear his voice, repeat his words? Affirmation, helping him?
8. Alberta, dealing with the postwar period, his fiancee and the elevator and her return in the ring?
9. John jobs, the posters? His taking the court to get their morphine – and the later bashing him? Edouard sister, discussions about the body? The anniversaries death, her inviting him to a meal, his dressing up, seeing Crackdown, engaged to the sister, the talk at the table, the father, telling the truth about Edouard at war?
10. Edouard and his scheme, his designs, his artwork, the preparation of the catalogue, Albert to raise the money, getting the job by Edouard’s father, skimming of the profits? You responses to the catalogue? Christmas and the flood of requests, the war memorials? The money coming in?
11. The father, his idea of a Memorial, the money, not realising he was skimmed? His official, toadying to the father, telling him to shut up? Recognising his son’s signature in the drawings? On the poster?
12. Critical, an evil man, getting the Chinese employed and the fake burials, the grades of the Collins being too small? His marrying the daughter? If his affairs, his other associates, her pregnancy, getting rid of him? His being ruined, the father summoning him, giving him the clues, telling him to find the author of the poster? The father and his blackmailing practical emotionally, threatening to tell the officials the truth?
13. Louise, giving the information to the bureaucrat, his following it up, going to the cemetery, the inspection, the grades, critical of him the big payoff, his accepting it? Then denouncing it, handing back the money?
14. Critical, Albert going to see him on the building site, confronting him? Critical and his falling into the hole and being smothered?
15. Edouard, his life, his various masks, his bitterness, Louise understanding him? The morphine? The money coming in, is appropriating it, the high life at the hotel, the parties?
16. Pretty the finding him, his father coming to see him, his father expressing love for him, Edouard Snead, taking his father and committing suicide?
17. Albert and his plan, having met Pauline at the house, attracted, the going out, her not wanting to go along with his plan?
18. His arrest, the interrogation Morocco, the irony of the officer and his son having been shot in the back by practical? His dismissing the attendance? The key and the handcuffs? Albert walking out and meeting Pauline Louise?
19. A stylish French history, war, post-war, fraud, freedom?