Based on Pierre Lemaitre’s Prix Goncourt-winning 2013 novel of the same name, Au revoir là-haut (See You Up There) is a French film about World War I that takes aim at a society more interested in commemorating the war’s dead than in looking after its survivors. Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel, who adapted the novel for screen and who also directs the film) is a humble former accountant who makes it to within days of the armistice, only to be caught in a battle uselessly reignited by the blood-hungry lieutenant Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte, best known for his role in the 2016 film Elle). Buried in an explosion, Albert takes his last breaths from the carcass of a horse entombed with him, but is hauled out by his friend, the young artist Edouard (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Edouard himself then suffers a hit that sees his lower jaw and throat blown to pieces, rendering him one of the gueules cassées (‘broken faces’) of the Great War.
It is a breathtaking opening. Dupontel, a one-time medical student, does not balk at showing the brutal nature of Edouard’s injury, nor the clumsy attempts of the medical world to mask it. But Edouard – taken in by Albert, who prepares his food, steals morphine for him from other veterans, and reluctantly helps him to convince his wealthy family and despised father that he is dead – decides one day to use his artistic skills to create his own mask in preparation to take on the world that has cheated him.