It’s no mean feat condensing a 600+ page novel into a 117 minute motion picture but that’s exactly what Director/Co-writer/Star Albert Dupontel has achieved with Au Revoir Là-Haut, one of the most lavish and technically dazzling war themed movies you’re ever likely to see. Audacious, funny, sullen, brutal and never lacking in daring, this is big screen and multi-award winning cinematic grandeur as only French cinema can provide.
A vocal and energetic tome to the ridiculousness and futility of war staged around the end of WWI, we meet Albert (Dupontel), a prisoner held in Morocco who is regaling an officer on his journey to this place. We dissolve to a flashback in the trenches late 1918, where weary soldiers, tired of fighting, are given the news that the war is ending. Unwilling to fight, the men (including Albert) are forced back out onto the battlefield once more by the tyrannical and arrogant Lieutenant Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte) and what ensues is a harrowing and brutal bloodbath that sees many of these men dead, maimed or mortally wounded. It’s here, amidst the carnage, that we meet Edouard (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), a gifted artist and friend. The pair manage to survive albeit leaving Edouard horrifically disfigured.
Thus sets the stage for what these pair get up to that sees our hero Albert arrested and their lives forever changed.
Dealing with themes of addiction, the savagery & ramifications of war on a man, existentialism, heroism, survival, the meaning of duty and friendship overcoming adversity, Au Revoir Là-Haut imbues its heavy subject matter with the right amount of levity, brevity, and humility. It shows no fear in going to dark places and it’s a credit to Dupontel that he deftly handles the emotional triggers with grace and bluster as required.
What makes this film all the more impressive is that visual feast that is served up on screen. This is a lavish period piece. The recreation of the trenches to post War France is sumptuous and effortlessly embellished by Vincent Mathias (Qu’est-Ce Qu’On a Fait Au Bon Dieu?, La Proie) behind the lens. It’s all on screen, and it’s all quite immense.
Performances across the board are top notch and on game. BPM‘s Nahuel Perez Biscayart, in particular, embodies Edouard with such humanity he makes for a real cinematic find.
It’s no easy task, as aforementioned, when you are truncating a 600-odd page novel into a sub 2 hour movie, you are essentially doing a highlights reel of the source material. Yet Dupontel, along with co-adapter and source author Pierre Lemaitre, manage to strike a balance between character and events for the most part to keep you invested.
With 5 César Awards up its sleeve for Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costumes, and Set Design (when you see it, you’ll know why), Au Revoir Là-Haut is deserving of the praise and accolades its getting.
An anti war film, a tome to humanity, and an opulent exercise in lavish French Cinema, Au Revoir Là-Haut is well worth your time.
AU REVOIR LÀ-HAUT (SEE YOU UP THERE) releases on 19 JULY, 2018 in AUSTRALIA through UMBRELLA ENTERTAINMENT
A version of this review ran during the 2018 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival