“It’s more than the army - it’s the theme of survival” that interests Thomas Cailley in his Director’s Fortnight entry Love at First Fight (Les Combattants).

Themes such as classicism and existentialism ring out when watching the beautifully shot scenes between Madeleine (played by Adele Haenel) and Arnaud (Kevin Azais) deep within the Landes Forest. But the film greatly juxtaposes in genres as the two fall in love at a préparations militaires school (similar to a combat training camp), giving it more of a light-hearted, some might even say outrageous, comedic flair.

“I think it’s a challenge to work beyond one genre. I want the movie to be an experience. It’s more than a comedy - the characters are at the centre of everything,” explains Cailley. 

The first-time feature director gives examples of people he knew that were similar to the reserved Arnaud and to the electrifying Madeleine, noting it wasn’t impossible for two very different people to fall in love. Citing on-screen relationships to be “stereotypical”, he instead pushed the two characters to “completely re-invent themselves.”

In writing the script, he attended a training camp similar to that in the film, and met other people not unlike Madeleine, who in Cailley’s eyes “are bigger than life.  When they enter the room, you know something is going to happen.”

To represent the two very different characters coming together, he created three separate worlds: the first being Arnaud’s more typical life consisting of job, friends and family; the second being Madeleine’s wild world that embodies both physical and military elements and the third is their two worlds that come crashing together. “Madeline is like a meteorite – when her world explodes, Arnaud chooses to leave his world for her world. These two worlds are failures and they then have to make a new third world.”

Cailley, alongside his brother David Cailley, who is also the cinematographer, selected the Landes Forest in southwestern France, as the location for Arnaud and Madeleine’s world. To enunciate the space’s uniqueness, David Cailley “let the cinematography be more free and pushed back the horizons so the landscapes become wider in scope.”  

Cailley deems this location as an important place for him and for the two characters. “My brother and I grew up here. It’s a particular place, the ground is sand and the trees can’t stand. There is something very organic about the trees, almost like they are falling over and hugging the characters. So at one point, we see them above the forest with a large horizon. This vision was important.”  

Colour also plays an important part in their journey.  Referencing the overall film as a “a trip” – David Cailley used a RED Epic camera to showcase the blues in Arnaud’s world, the greens in Madeleine’s world, and finally the two colours merging to form yellows (and ultimately reds).  

The film took Cailley three years to make – something he says “is an act of sincerity.” Laying claim to an absolute focus and determination, he is ultimately proud of the final product, this he has come to realise in repeatedly talking about the film in interviews.   

While citing a need for a break, he has managed to start a detective style script in the vein of Blood Simple. But of course, Cailley wants to de-regulate the genre, and remove the detective from the script. 

BAC Films handles sales of Love At First Fight.