Friday, October 1, 2010

Au Revoir, les Enfants

1987, Louis Malle, 104m, French

This is a ravishingly beautiful film about children in a French boarding school for boys. It is set in the period of WW2, during the German occupation. But above all it is a poetic recreation of a certain stage of childhood, full of adventure and the moisture of life, of the human animal taking shape.

The bunch of children is bursting with energy and the priests who are charged with their education and nurture have a tough time reigning them in. They are kindly and pious teachers, all too ready to wink off most of the foibles children are liable to. It is the age of dawning adolescence and a boarding school may be one of the best environments for the child to develop and round off the sharp edges of personality. It is a potters wheel where the social animal takes shape and the kiln where he finds strength (or crumbles).

They experiment with cigarettes, read forbidden books, fight, tumble over each other, a single bouncing ball of  exploding life force, and wet their beds. There are no secrets in the dormitory universe set in the autumnal French country side surrounded by woods. It's a film with the power to bring back the flavor of that fleeting period of life, replete with games and adventure, when the human plant shoots up to his destination.

But the country is occupied by the enemy and the rumblings of war form the backdrop of the film. The movie is woven around the friendship of Julien and Jean. Jean is a Jew and is being hidden by the school head at the risk and cost of his own life. The world of boisterous innocence suddenly turns dark as the school is visited by the Gestapo, having received information from a dismissed employee, and the film ends on a heart rending note.

This is a film which makes a subdued hence all the more powerful statement about the holocaust. By focusing on a single human life, it projects the enormity of the concentration camps all the more sharply than all the graphic material we have wearied of or become immunized to, or statistical recitations. We are just told at the end where the three Jewish children are being marched to.

Vincent Canby


Anonymous said...

I glimpsed the finale on TV during my childhood. It was very sad.

After more than 10 years, I finally watched the movie properly. I watched characters' experience through their eyes while transported to their world. There are beautiful moments such as the eerily mesmerizing scene where our heroes are lost in the woods. And, yes, the finale is more heartbreaking than I remembered.

I want to recommend you another Louie Malle's wonderful movie "Atlantic City". It has very good duo performance by Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon.

S. M. Rana said...

Thanks. I was having trouble deciding about next Malle film to see.

Next on my Q is Last Train Home.

litdreamer said...

One of my favorite moments in the film is when everyone at the school is watching a Chaplin film and the Statue of Liberty appears on the screen. Boisterous laughter turns to silence, and Malle shows, much more powerfully than words could, what America meant (and still means) to people around the world.

Just one of the many wonderful scenes in this film.

S. M. Rana said...

@LD: I'll have to recapture this moment again.