Film review: ‘SEE YOU UP THERE’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Enjoying French actor/ writer/ director Albert Dupontel’s oddball WW1 drama See You Up There is largely dependent on the viewer’s attitude toward the quirkier side of French cinema. Those who enjoy manic behaviour, over-the-top performances, bizarre imagery and general silliness characteristic of French directors like Jean Pierre Jeunet will spoil their trousers over this film. Those who recoil at that style of filmmaking will still admire aspects of it.

The film employs a Usual Suspects device of a suspected criminal recounting his story in a police station. Dupontel plays French WW1 veteran Albert who reveals that, after being rescued on the battlefield, he dedicated his life to helping the severely disfigured friend Edouard (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) who saved him. In the chaos of post-war France the two, along with a young orphan girl (Héloïse Balster) concoct a scam that will exploit both patriotism and Edouard’s prodigious artistic skill. Proving a constant menace, though, is their sadistic former commanding officer Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte). All of this is tied up with a complex but thankfully not overly messy story involving Edouard’s family and government corruption. To reveal much more would be a spoiler.

Packing its extensive plot into a feature film means this strange morality tale gallops along at pretty fierce speed. Consequently, some events happen too suddenly and lack the impact they should have had.

As the film’s central character Albert is a decent but flawed man desperate to help an injured friend and prepared to mug disabled war veterans to do so. The restrained Dupontel delivers a solid performance but given the scope of this film it’s not as memorable as it should have been. His compatriot Edouard will divide opinions. While a genuinely compassionate figure due his war wounds, his behaviour, which includes wearing crazy masks and acting very erratically will appeal to those who enjoy street theatre but may enrage those who hate that sort of thing. As Edouard’s father, French cinema legend Niels Arestrup is typically droll and contemptuous but always an arresting screen presence. The most compelling character, though, is the ruthless moustachioed villain Pradelle who always seems to be one step ahead of Albert and Edouard.

Cinematographer Vincent Mathias gives the film a strange bleached look which at times has the unfortunate appearance of a bootleg. Still, this doesn’t diminish the disturbing power of the brutal trench warfare scenes. We could have done without the irritating zany music, however, which seems oddly inappropriate given that much of the film is about the meat grinding horror of the First World War and its aftermath.

This idiosyncratic film won’t be to all tastes but even those who find its heavy-handed style off-putting will discover some insightful filmmaking here.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Historical drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Albert Dupontel.

Release date: 19th July 2018.

Running time: 117 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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