Ahead of next month’s 2018 Alliance Française French Film Festival, we were invited to a preview screening of French historical-drama, See You Up There (Au revoir là-haut) at Palace Nova East End Cinemas. The film is an adaption of Pierre Lemaitre's popular, award-winning novel and is a bittersweet tale of two survivors of the First World War, as they return to civilian life and embark on a mischievous plan to sell phony war memorials.
Actor-director, Albert Dupontel stars as Albert Maillard, a soldier caught in the trenches as the First World War draws to an end in November 1918. Maillard and his comrade Edouard Pericourt (Perez Biscayart) are sent into one last battle by their bloodthirsty superior, Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte). The final scenes of the bloodbath see Pericourt save Maillard from almost being buried alive by debris, before Pericourt is devastatingly hit in the face by explosive gunfire.
If you are not a fan of a World War I biopic, never fear as the bulk of the film follows the absurdity of Maillard and Pericourt’s lives, as they integrate back into society following the war. After Pericourt saves Maillard’s life, he feels obliged to stay by his disfigured companion’s hospital bedside and even steals morphine from the hospital’s drug cabinet to ensure his friend’s survival. We learn in these scenes that Pericourt was a talented artist who came from a wealthy family and his father disapproved of his artistry. Now that Pericourt’s face is disfigured, he prefers that his family believes he is dead.
As they return to civilian life, Pericourt becomes addicted to morphine and spends his days creating extravagant masks to hide his facial disfigurement. Pericourt and Maillard then formulate a plan to sell phony war monuments to French towns to honour their dead.
The film compellingly illustrates the emotional toll that the war has had on its protagonists. Notably, Pericourt’s manic behaviour is beautifully depicted in his extravagant masks, as he deals with his trauma and addiction to morphine. The film draws the audience in with its clever portrayal of the protagonists’ emotions that by the end of the film, the audience is yearning for Pericourt to reconnect with his family. The film is easy-to-follow for non-French speakers, using visual storytelling to convey the moments of human tragedy and dark comedy.
The Annual Alliance Française French Film Festival returns to Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas and with screenings at the new Palace Nova Prospect Cinemas from the 22nd March until 15th April. More information and tickets available here.
All images via 2018 Alliance Française French Film Festival