Home Video Hovel: Love at First Fight, by Sarah Brinks
As the bard said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” This is a very applicable statement in regards to the lead characters’ relationship in Love at First Fight. Honestly though a love story where everything works out from the start hardly makes for an interesting film, right? Love at First Fight takes a little while to find its footing but once it does the film becomes charming and engaging.
The film begins with Arnaud, played by Kévin Azais, and his brother buying a coffin for their father. They are carpenters and decide to make it themselves. Arnaud is young and struggling to decide what to do with his future. He is considering the army and meets Madeleine, played by Adèle Haenel, at an army self-defense demonstration. They spar and he wins but cheats to do it. He then gets hired with his brother to build a pool shed for Madeleine’s family. They have a strenuous friendship but they end up becoming friends. Madeleine is a tom-boy with plans to join the Army. It is clear that Arnaud has a crush on her but she is unreceptive. When she leaves for a pre-Army training camp he ends up joining her. Madeleine is too intense and her performance struggles as a result. Arnaud is much more relaxed and he performs well. Eventually they have a tiff and go off on their own survival adventure and things take some unexpected turns.
The relationship between Madeleine and Arnaud is the central part of the film and thankfully it feels natural and fully formed. Unlike other films Love at First Fight lets their relationship evolve and like many relationships in real life it is stronger on one side than the other at least in the beginning. Arnaud falls pretty quickly for Madeleine but it takes her a lot longer to fall for him. She is also very focused on her army training and isn’t looking for a boyfriend. The ebb and flow of affections feel true to the characters throughout the film.
One element that is touched on but never fully formed is Madeleine’s masculine demeanor in conflict with the traditionally male dominated field of soldiering. Haenel is a naturally beautiful woman but they never doll her up, even when she goes out to the club. She has little to no make up on ever in the film and she dresses in masculine clothing. Her intensity and focus still draw Arnaud in but he expresses a couple times that he wishes she could be more feminine. To Madeleine’s and the films credit she sticks to who she is. The difference in their genders is immediately apparent when they go to the training camp. Madeleine and the two other girls are taken aside and told by the commanding offer that he doesn’t want to have any problems because of them and sex. It is so offensive the way he says it to only the women as if they alone can cause sexual conflict. Madeleine’s reaction to it is almost like a slap in the face which is what it feels like. Madeleine’s “army of one” attitude gets her into trouble at the camp and the commanding officer rebukes her a number of times. But after his comments about problems with sex the viewer can’t help but wonder if he is just intimidated by strong women.
An aspect that really works in the film is the way it captures that difficult time in your early twenties when you are trying to figure out how to be an adult and what direction to follow. It also shows the way unexpected paths can pop up and how what you thought you wanted may not, in fact, be the right thing for you. There is an awkward family dinner between Arnaud, his brother and mother, and Madeleine. Madeleine has some very strong views about the world. She is a smart girl with a college degree but little life experience. She spouts out her freshly formed views like they are gospel and is surprised when Arnaud’s brother disagrees. She sees the world in the black and white fashion that a lot of highly educated young people see it. The way the film addresses this type of thinking without making it feel wrong or stupid shows maturity.
The film is well made. For what could be categorized as a romantic comedy it has some surprisingly well done digital effects. They are used very sparingly and were likely mixed with practical effects but they helped amp up the drama when it is needed. This is the first feature length film for writer/director Thomas Cailley. For a first effort Love at First Fight feels focused, it sticks to one story and trusts that it is interesting enough to carry the film and it is. Love at First Fight is a French film and the subtitles are easy to read though occasionally go by a little too quickly. This is a sweet film with strong performances, a good story, and authentic relationships.