(photo credit: Courtesy)
Director Albert Dupontel presented his extraordinary new movie See You Up There (Au revoir là-haut) on the opening night of the 15th French Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque last Wednesday night. See You Up There opens throughout Israel this week.
The festival runs until early April at cinematheques in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Holon, Herzliya, Sderot and Rosh Pina, as well at the Savyon Cultural Center and Globus Max Ashdod.
Pierre Cochard, consul general of the French Consulate General in Israel, took to the stage to inaugurate the festival.
The evening was a tribute to Jerusalem Cinematheque founder Lia van Leer, who passed away three years ago. Dr. Noa Regev, the CEO of the cinematheque, spoke movingly about van Leer’s love of French cinema. A short film was screened that showed van Leer in her element, entertaining such celebrities as Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, Marcello Mastroianni and many others at the cinematheque and hosting events including the annual film festival.
She would likely have loved Dupontel’s brilliant, difficult-to-classify new film, which won five Cesar Awards, including Best Director and Best Adapted screenplay (it was based on a novel by Pierre Lemaitre).
Dupontel, a soft-spoken man who seemed relaxed and happy to be in Jerusalem, came onstage for a Q&A session after the screening of the film, which received a rare standing ovation from the usually restrained cinematheque audience.
As well as directing and writing the film, Dupontel also stars in it, playing the hero, Albert, a nebbishy bookkeeper who bonds with his fellow soldier, Edouard (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), in their hatred of their psychopathic commanding officer, Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte), at the end of World War I. Pradelle is so cruel and self interested that he pretends not to have received a telegram announcing that hostilities have ended and sends soldiers to their deaths needlessly.
“Dying last is even dumber than dying first,” thinks Albert, as Edouard helps him cheat death during the last moments of the war. Out of gratitude, he stays on to help Edouard, who has suffered a disfiguring wound while helping him – Edouard’s jaw has been blown off. Edouard does not want to return home to his wealthy, judgmental father, so he and Albert live together in an abandoned warehouse in Paris and Albert ekes out a living doing odd jobs.
Edouard, who is a gifted artist, finds inventive ways to cover his injury with masks, and comes up with an equally original scam to make money: he will sketch designs for war memorials and then he and Albert will disappear with the money. The fact that this scam will expose a scheme Pradelle is running makes it that much more enticing.
The film is an irreverent paean to friendship and the joys of revenge, as well as a critique of the greed and kitsch that stoke modern warfare.
The acting, writing and cinematography are uniformly excellent, and the masks are something else again. I have never seen masks more beautiful or more expressive, or used so wittily to convey emotion.
They are truly costars in the movie.
After the film, the mostly French-speaking audience asked questions in their native tongue, and Dupontel gave his answers in French as well, which were translated into Hebrew. As it often does, this started to seem like a comedy sketch in which long, detailed questions and answers were summarized in just a couple of words. To summarize the summaries, Dupontel spoke of having a great deal of fun making the film, although such an elaborate production was hard work. The emotional side of the film, particularly Edouard’s troubled relationship with his father, was the most difficult part about making the movie.
He took liberties with the novel he adapted, adding more humor to certain sections, he said.
Asked to compare the trauma of World War I to the legacy of the Holocaust, he deftly answered that the two events were not comparable. “World War I was a stupid war, the Holocaust was different, it was about hatred.”
The festival includes the best films of contemporary French cinema, as well as rarely shown classics by such masters as Jean Renoir. It is sponsored by many different organizations and companies, among them the French Embassy in Israel, the Eden Cinema distribution company headed by Caroline Boneh, the French Institute in Israel and UniFrance Films.