Boy meets girl. Girl sizes him up. Boy falls in love as girl arm-throws him to the ground. Wait, what? Les Combattants (English title, Love at First Fight) is your not-so-average love story of two coming-of-age adults that meet in an army training recruitment in a seemingly dead-end town in France. Wonderfully directed by Thomas Cailley and starring Adèle Haenel (Madeleine Beaulieu) and Kévin Azaïs (Arnaud Labrède), this film is definitely a breath of fresh air in its approach to young romance.
Madeleine is not your typical young adult. She does not socialize, party, fuss about boy problems, nor does she have subsequent dreams to further a professional career status. She has goals, yes, but their sole purpose is to prepare for an ultimate survival (should an apocalypse occur and it is every man for himself). Madeleine is 100% driven and dedicated, mind and body, to the thought of being a soldier at the edge of the world, even though she presently lives with her parents in their sheltered, upper class home. So, it comes as no surprise that she jumps at the opportunity to train for two weeks at what is advertised as the toughest training camp when the army recruitment campaign sets up station in her town.
Arnaud is the younger of two brothers and follows the path of his older brother in carpentry – a trade and family business passed down from their father who recently deceased. As a young adult with no ambition nor desire to get out of his hometown, Arnaud spends his time working alongside his older brother and hanging out, partying, and drinking with his two best friends, who jokingly sign him up in a self-defense evaluation exercise provided by the army recruit, and it is there he meets – and is tackled by – Madeleine.
As coincidence has it, one of his brother’s onsite, carpentry jobs is at the home of Madeleine, and he becomes more and more fascinated with her character that is so different from himself and the other girls in his town that he attempts to build a foundation of friendship with her. However, it is with a very admirable and innocent persistence to follow and provide moral support to Madeleine that his intentions are clear as day that he’s falling head-over-heels in love with her.
This consequently leads him to join the training camp – for which he’s had neither prior interest nor training – just to be closer to and spend more time with Madeleine. If that isn’t sweet enough, how about sticking up for her during training camp, taking a punch to the ground as her bruised, competitive ego takes over, or even saving her from food poisoning in the middle of the forest and carrying her all the way through until a town is seen? Chivalry is very much alive for Arnaud, and Madeleine – the self-focused girl she is – falls for him as well, while trying hard to retain her lone-wolf composure.
Their compatibility would never have been guessed to be successful, as one is self-reclusive, hard-headed, and focused on training and the other is a bit aloof in his actions and is without a clear sense of direction. However, when love sparks, flames ignite, and selflessness is mixed in, anything is possible. Les Combattants portrays this in the most humorous and youthful manner, showing that when two individuals combine their love for freedom, survival instincts, and growing care for each other, the world becomes their adventure and time is just an illusion. A must-see film for the adventurous and freedom-craving spirit.