Set in 1944 Nazi-occupied France, the film follows Malle’s cinematic counterpart Julian (Gaspard Manesse), back at boarding school after winter vacation. Newly enrolled is Jean Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö), whose distinction of being a Jew is an open schoolyard secret. He stands out, opting out of enough activities to call attention to just about all of his classmates except the naïve Julian, who soon befriends him.
The film follows their daily routines so closely that we, with the help from the masterful direction of Malle, make ourselves too connected to be merely observers. Knowing what we know about Jean’s identity and how films like this sometimes end, there is a sense of dread throughout the picture. This is best symbolized in the capture the flag scene, the students deep in the dark woods, unsure of what is hidden or preparing to approach.
And then it comes…
Our own slight, careless actions may have only ratted someone out of cheating on a test in class, and so we will never know the terrible burden Julian holds. But imagine what else we mays have done that we aren‘t even aware of…And that, aside from being one of the last lines in the film, is where the title, Goodbye, Children, comes from. Goodbye to youth, goodbye to innocence, goodbye to what you think you know.
Candice Bergen (13:34): Malle’s widow Bergen, also recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2005, features the actress discussing Malle’s love of film, his “restless intellect,” his reputation in both France and America, and more. This is an excellent interview with one of the people who knew Malle best.
Joseph: A Character Study (5:22) offers a fascinating look at the character of Joseph, the antihero of Au revoir les enfants.
Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant (25:13): A nice inclusion is this brilliant Chaplin short from 1917 that was featured in the film.
Louis Malle at AFI (53:10): This audio-only recording is taken from Malle’s appearance at the American Film Institute in 1988 as part of the Harold Lloyd Master Seminars. The excerpts contain Malle’s thoughts on writing 1971’s Murmur of the Heart, working with children and “the solitude of the director.”
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is 20-page booklet featuring an essay titled “Childhood’s End” by film critic Philip Kemp and one titled “Pére Jacques and the Petit-Collége D’avon” by historian Francis J. Murphy.