When Thomas Cailey was 27 years old, he dropped everything, including his background in literature and political science, to make films.
He was inspired by his brother, who was a physics teacher who quit his job to become a cinematographer. In 2011, Cailley made his first short film, and in 2014 his first feature, “Love at First Fight” (“Les Combatants”), premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the C.I.C.A.E. Awards, the FIPRESCI Prize, the SACD Prize and was nominated for the Camera D’or. Later the film went on to win three César Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars. So it sounds like Cailley made the right choice.
The film’s official synopsis reads: “Between his friends and the family business, Arnaud’s summer looks set to be a peaceful one. Peaceful until he runs into Madeleine, as beautiful as she is brusque, a concrete block of tensed muscles and doomsday prophecies. He expects nothing; she prepares for the worst. He takes things as they come, likes a good laugh. She fights, runs, swims, pushes herself to the limit. Given she hasn’t asked him for anything, just how far will he go along with her? It’s a love story. Or a story of survival. Or both.”
“Love at First Fight” opens in New York today, May 22, and expands to various other cities throughout July. We chatted with Cailley about his experience at Cannes, his inspirations and his use of music.
The idea of the apocalypse is really a metaphor. But I think in the case of the character of Madeleine, her arguments are not necessarily wrong, because we are dealing with a situation where society isn’t in a good place right now, and there are a lot of people who are very fearful. And yes, I’m not saying that the apocalypse is happening tomorrow, but I like to think that if, like the end of the film, if that moment does arrive — I would be thrilled to be with people that I love.
The experience [at Cannes] was very intense, it was a very compact experience, everything went really very fast. There were a lot of strong feelings, because you remember, this was really the first public screening of the film, it hadn’t been shown before, and it was before an audience that had bought tickets to be there and to see and experience the film. So it wasn’t that the room was filled with friends who were going to speak kindly of it. People wanted to see a film, and their relationship with the film. But also, the whole crew from the film, it was the first time that all them had seen the film. So, it was extremely stressful, but after the screening, it was a very joyful moment for me, because the reaction in the theater was great, I heard people laughing, and for me, they were laughing in the right way. So that was really a very special moment for me. And of course, since then, the film has kind of taken on a life of its own, so it doesn’t really belong to me as much now, as it belongs to the viewers who see it.
[The César Awards] brought me great happiness, and also I considered it to be a very great honor — because as I see it, it’s really a collective encouragement of what I’m doing, and a collective encouragement to be free. This is a film that’s really made outside of the box; it’s not a romantic comedy in the conventional sense. It’s more of a UFO in that sense. And this is a film we made with that sense of freedom, so these prizes and the positive reactions that we’ve gotten from people who have seen the film have really indicated that we were working in the right direction.
For me, being a cinephile came so later in life. For directors [that inspired me], Elia Kazan and the Dardennes brothers. Also something like “The Simpsons,” which is actually a pretty big influence. In art, it would be the work of Edward Hopper. In literature or novels, it would be Raymond Carver.
I’m a musician myself, so I’m pretty strict about the kinds of things that I look for and what I wanted. The music in the film is an original score that was written especially for the film. I knew that I wanted electronic music but the problem with electronic music is that it can oftentimes be very cold. It’s a little too mechanical, a little too perfect, a little too robotic. The musicians here were able to create something that’s very luminous and very light.