SEE YOU UP THERE
Director: Albert Dupontel
Screenwriter: Albert Dupontel, with the participation of Pierre Lemaitre, based on the latter’s novel The Great Swindle.
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Runtime: 117 mins.
Australian release date: 19 July 2018
Previewed at: Verona Cinema, Paddington, Sydney, on 8 February 2018.
See You Up There (Au Revoir Là-Haut) is an historical drama directed, written by and starring Albert Dupontel and it’s based on an award-winning novel called, in English, The Great Swindle. The film version, too, is an award-winner; it has garnered five César Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars), including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. A highly original story, it tells the tale of a returned WWI serviceman who concocts a plan to sell phony monuments to French towns honouring their dead.
In the dying days of the war, two mates are ordered into battle by their sadistic superior, Captain Henri d'Aulnay-Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte), a man who is well aware of the futility of his cruel actions. The pair of infantrymen come under heavy fire, with the result that one, Albert Maillard (Dupontel), is almost buried alive and the other, Édouard Péricourt (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) is shockingly wounded, losing part of his face and jaw. Bound together by the mateship of battle, the two men return to civilian life together despite having little in common apart from their war experience. The heavily disfigured Péricourt becomes addicted to morphine while convalescing and comes up with the idea of wearing masks to hide his shattered jaw, an idea he elaborates on as time passes, and he makes a variety of masks for different occasions and emotions. A creative man, he also concocts a scheme that involves designing monuments to be sold to mourning villages and towns wishing to commemorate their fallen soldiers, monuments that he can’t possibly deliver. His resolve in this plan is reinforced when the two mates run into the evil Captain Pradelle once again, who is also profiteering from the dead.
In France Dupontel is known more for his performances in front of the camera than behind it and you can see why. He brings real life to Maillard, a man who seems a bit overwhelmed and overawed by the situation in which he finds himself. Pérez Biscayart, too, is very good as the disfigured, and possibly demented, Péricourt, in a role in which his face is largely obscured and his voice difficult to understand. Lafitte and Niels Arestrup as Péricourt’s estranged father are both terrific in small but important supporting roles.
Lemaitre is a widely read and lauded crime writer and his story has some of the elements of a thriller, augmented by more colourful, almost baroque flourishes. It’s also a sumptuous-looking drama, thanks to its lavish production design, art direction and costumes, and its 1920s setting. There’s something of The Phantom of the Opera (the Lon Chaney 1925 version) to this tale, like a play from Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. Vincent Mathias’s prowling camera adds to the sense of oddity and makes one feel almost as if lost in a strange land. Not much is familiar in Albert and Édouard’s peculiar universe. See You Up There is an unsettling film, the like of which you won’t have seen before.