This is one of those movies that I watched mostly because I had tickets for the showings before and afterwards, and didn’t feel like wandering around for over two hours in between movies. And while I did enjoy the movie, at least in parts, overall I think I wouldn’t have missed much if I would have done exactly that instead.
“Les Combattants” is but one of many Coming of Age-movies, and for quite a long time, it didn’t really speak to me as much as others did. I was especially taken aback by my impression that this was some sort of covertly recruitment video for the French military. I haven’t been to the military myself (in Austria the young men can choose between either that or community service; I chose the latter), so it’s probably very prejudging and prejudiced of me, but I haven’t got the highest opinion of the military in general. Thus, the first half of the movie where Madeleine is training for some sort of military summer camp, and Arnaud (who is smitten by her) decides to follow her lead, catched me on the wrong foot, and even though it became apparent afterwards that this was a misconception on my part, it didn’t make the first half of the movie any more bearable and/or entertaining for me, which – apart from a couple of nice scenes between Madeleine and Arnaud – I found mostly dull.
However, as soon as Madeleine started to realize that the military doesn’t provide her with what she hoped to get – namely the tools for survival for the (in her mind) inevitable downfalls that’s coming – and instead only places value on obedience and the readiness to sacrifice your own life for your comrades and the country, the movie started to work for me. The ultimate turnaround came with the great scene at the gas station. After that, I really started to enjoy the movie. I liked the impromptu survival training of Madeleine and Arnaud, and the development of their love. Near the end, the movie also offers a stunningly looking sequence, with the wall of smoke, and I also liked the ending. The performances were also great, especially the two leads Adèle Haenel (who coincidentally celebrates her 26th birthday today – so: Happy Birthday!) and Kévin Azaïs. Overall, it’s a decent enough movie that ended stronger than it started, which is always a plus. Ultimately, though, it’s nothing special.