Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rendez-Vous ’18: See You Up There

There is nothing fake about the WWI military service of Albert Maillard and Edouard Péricourt—they have the scars and disfigurement to prove it. However, the war memorials they peddle are as phony as a three-Franc note. As far as Péricourt, the disillusioned artist is concerned, it is exactly what the public deserves for their fake sympathy. Maillard is less convinced, but he will be passively carried along with the scheme in Albert Dupontel’s See You Up There (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

As Maillard explains to the interrogating Algerian police officer, nobody wanted to die when they knew armistice was imminent, but their commanding officer, Lt. Henri d’Aulnay-Pradelle was a truly evil jerk, who had to get in one last battle, in blatant defiance of his orders. In fact, Maillard sees the incriminating evidence—two French scouts shot in the back—before d’Aulnay-Pradelle blew their bodies apart. Péricourt rescues Maillard from a premature burial, but loses the better part of his jaw for his efforts.

At Péricourt’s behest, Maillard switches his identity with that of a former ward of the state killed in action, sparing him a presumably painful reunion with his severely judgmental father. Péricourt remains in a morphine-laced depression, until a friendship with the neighboring orphan girl and his dodgy war memorial plan rejuvenate his spirits. As fate would have it, his father will unwittingly help fund the con and become its biggest sucker.

In terms of visual style, SYUT is so grandly baroque, it could pass for the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The narrative itself is a grubby tale of swindles and payback, but Dupontel gives it epic sweep. There are even gothic elements, such as the flamboyant masks Péricourt crafts for himself that evoke the Phantom of the Opera.

Dupontel is his own best collaborator, playing Maillard as a poignantly nebbish everyman. He is also rather touching when courting the Péricourt family’s maid, Pauline, who should be well out of his league, since she is played by Mélanie Thierry, but whatever. As the masked Péricourt, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart impressively expresses much through body language and his eyes. Niels Arestrup is as reliable as ever gruffly but sensitively portraying Old Man Péricourt, while Laurent Lafitte (of the Comédie Française) chews the scenery with relish as the irredeemable Lieutenant. Yet, the film wouldn’t be the same without André Marcon biding his time as the sly colonial gendarme.

See You Up There is a richly realized period production, but it is also a wickedly effective anti-war movie. Hollow platitudes sound especially disingenuous in French. It is a bold film best seen on the big screen, but it certainly never romanticizes Jazz Age Paris. Very highly recommended, See You Up There screens this Tuesday (3/13) and the following Sunday (3/18) , as part of French Rendez-Vous ’18, at the Walter Reade.