Old 05-14-2009, 04:14 PM
Louis Malle's Au Revoir, Les Enfants

Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987)

Louis Malle's "Au Revoir, Les Enfants" was one of his last films and probably his most personal. According to Roger Ebert's "Great Movie" essay on this film, this film is based on a wartime experience of Malle's, who went to this very boarding school during the German occupation of France during World War II. He was there on that morning in January 1945. This is his story put on film.

Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse) has been sent by his mother to a boarding school outside of Paris for protection during the German occupation of France. One day, a new student arrives, Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejtö). Jean is immediately picked on as "the new kid" and doesn't really seem to fit in amongst the others. When Julien discovers that Jean is a Jew, a special relationship slowly begins to form between them.

When the movie was over, I was at first concerned that it didn't really have much of a plot going on, but was rather several events linked together about these boys trying to make it through the war while living at this school. But the relationship between Julien and Jean is one that grows on you.

Julien is the kind of kid who doesn't even know anything about the Jews or what they were hated for during the war. He has to ask his brother, who tells him that they don't eat pork and that they crucified Jesus. But then he immediately begins defending them by noting that it was the Romans who had crucified Jesus. Perhaps a sign of things to come while he develops his relationship with Jean.

A key scene that occurs near the start of their friendship is when the children are playing a game in the woods, where two teams are competing to find a treasure. After being chased a long way, Julien comes upon some rocks that he explores (in a scene reminiscent of "Picnic at Hanging Rock"). He eventually discovers the treasure, but realizes that he is all alone, until he finds Jean nearby. They find a road which two Germans happen to be driving down at that instant. They try to run away but are quickly caught and returned to school. From that moment, they share a special bond.

There are other important scenes involving all of the children that have a great effect. In one scene, all of the students and staff have gathered to watch Charlie Chaplin's "The Immigrant," complete with a live score on piano and violin. This is a great example of the small happiness that they have together while the war rages on outside. They laugh together as though they haven't a care in the world.

They don't let the war interfere with their daily lives either. When the sirens go off indicating an air raid, they simply go into the shelters below ground and continue the day's lesson. When this happens again, Julien and Jean decide to hide and stay above ground. Their bond of their friendship has become even stronger.

We learn of their common interests throughout the film. Both boys love to read and are almost constantly seen with books. They read by flashlight in the middle of the night and lend each other their books. There is a particularly touching scene near the end where Jean gives Julien a stack of books that he has finished. We also see them at their piano lessons. First, Julien attempts to play a piece but keeps hitting wrong notes. Then Jean tries and plays it flawlessly, getting a glance from Julien as he leaves the room.

The final 15 minutes of the film are the most heartbreaking. A former employee of the school has ratted out on some Jews hiding at the school, which brings the Nazis and a Gestapo agent calling. The agent demands to know where Jean Kippelstein is, which is Jean's real last name. In a heartbreaking mistake, when the Gestapo agent's back is turned, Julien glances back at Jean, but the agent turns around just long enough to see Julien looking at Jean.

We know Julien never meant to give Jean away, but it is already too late. The Nazis swarm all over the school looking for the Jews and the principal who was harboring them. The film's final scene is directly out of Malle's memory. The principal (Father Jean) and three Jews (including Jean) are marched away while certain students are asked to line up against the wall. Father Jean turns back and says "Au revoir, les enfants. See you soon." Then, after the fates of these men are told, Malle himself tells us in a voiceover that he will never forget that morning.

What Malle has done with this film is give us a special relationship to replace a conventional plot. It is interesting how the film comes down to betrayals in the end. One person feels they have been betrayed when they are fired from the school, so he feels he must betray them in kind. Then, of course, there is Julien's accidental betrayal, something he never meant to do. In a way, this echoes his earlier ignorance of Jews earlier in the film. But it's really hard to blame them for their ignorance. They are simply kids after all, kids living in incomprehensible times. 3.5/4 stars.
Reply With Quote


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump