Love at First Fight Les Combattants

Thomas Cailley’s romcom sweeps all the sections’ three prizes

First-time director Thomas Cailley’s Gallic romcom “Les Combattants” (Love At First Fight) scored a historic triple at Cannes Friday, sweeping all three of Cannes’ 46th Directors’ Fortnight prizes, the first time that has ever happened.

Starring Kevin Azais (“Playing Dead”) and Adele Haenel – who already made a large impression in Celine Sciamma’s “Water Lilies” and Katel Guillevere’s more recent “Suzanne,” – “Fight” scooped Directors’ Fortnight’s Art Cinema Award and the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers’ SACD Prize. As just announced, it also won the section’s Europa Cinemas Label.

Added to that, and also on Friday, “Fight” snagged the FIPRESCI nod for best film in a Cannes parallel section.

Four awards on the same day is a rare feat for any film non-Cannes competition title. The trophy trawl will do nothing to staunch buzz among pundits, especially in Cailley’s native France, that he is the Next Big Thing in the biggest movie production industry in continental Europe.

True to say, the SACD prize is limited to French-language films, the Europa Cinemas Label logically enough to European titles, limiting the candidates who can sweep Directors’ Fortnight trio of unofficial kudos. The trophy trawl is sure to goose more sales for Bac Films that handles international rights and boost its box office in France, where “Fight” will be released by Haut et Court.

Gallic actor-director Guillaume Gallienne’s comic confessional “Me Myself and Mum,” which topped the 45th Directors’ Fortnight, winning its Art Cinema Award and SACD Prize went on to become one of France’s highest-grossing releases of 2013.

An acid but upbeat romantic comedy, “Fight” has Azais plays macho young carpenter Arnaud who is (literally) knocked off his feet by the wild-at-heart military fanatic Madeleine (Haenel). He decides, rashly, to join her at an army training fortnight.

Produced by veteran production house Nord-Ouest, and lensed by Cailley’s brother, DP David Cailley, “Fight” won an upbeat reception from critics at Cannes. Variety’s Peter Debruge praised its blend of “slick Hollywood-style technique with that restrained sense of storytelling so heartily encouraged among Euro auteurs.” The only question now is how good the film really is.

For Debruge, in a comment that might now stir healthy debate, “the same film wouldn’t necessarily stand out if unveiled at Sundance, despite a pair of punchy lead performances from young hotshots Adele Haenel and Kevin Azais.”

After ‘Me’s’ win last year, “Fight’s” trippletrophy trawl also vindicatesthe move by Directors’ Fortnight artistic director Edouard Waintrop to program more comedies in the section.

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