Monday, November 15, 2010

#193 Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)


Director: Louis Malle

Cast: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejt ö, Francine Racette, Stanislas Carre de Malberg, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Francois Berléand, Francois Négret

In the midst of World War II, two Catholic boarding school students in France find unexpected friendship. Julien Quentin (Manesse) is a sensitive, momma's boy who despite his hatred for school has a decent amount of popularity amongst the other boys. Jean Bonnet (Fetjö) is a newcomer to the school and is finding it hard to adjust.

When Julien learns that Jean is actually a Jew in hiding, he stops taunting him with the other boys and slowly develops a friendship with him. When Gestapo receive word that the school is hiding Jews and come for Jean, Julien faces one of the hardest days of his life.

Based on the actual events of his childhood at a wartime boarding school, director Louis Malle is careful to depict the film entirely from the child's view. No omniscient understanding of the war-- only what the priests and teachers tell the children (practically nothing). This view allows for a true innocence in perspective that makes the emotions of the children completely within our empathetic grasp as viewers. In addition, the film is shot in a dark, snowy, damp setting that chills you in just watching. The title translated to English ("Goodbye, Children") refers to both the climactic departing at the film's conclusion as well as the unavoidable end of childhood innocence.

The film uses a series of interesting motifs to highlight the unusual unification of these two characters, ie. continually reminding you of their separation, even when shown together. One of the strongest motifs I noticed is the visual of the "looking glass." The character Bonnet is consistently viewed through glass, in reflection, or in a window-like frame-- and more often than not, we find that it is Quentin who views him through this frame. (Think of the piano lesson window, the mirror in Bonnet's locker, the doorway of Bonnet's exit, the framed soldier who comes for confession.) Also remember the opening scene of the movie where we watch Quentin look out through the train window, trapped and isolated, with a distinct naive view of the world. It is when viewing Bonnet through these frames that illuminates the importance difference between the two friends--it reminds us that even though they are mates, they are still very isolated, coming from two very different worlds.

Another beautiful and tragic perspective on World War II--refreshing and endearing for its unique vantage point on the happenings of the Holocaust. Of course, this film is only minutely in documentation of the war-- and more about the climax and denouement of friendship as a result of persecution. A microcosm scope.

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