April 21, 2006

Au revoir, les enfants (1987)
Grade: 83/100

Director: Louis Malle
Stars: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto, Francine Racette

What it's about. Set in occupied France during World War II. Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is sent to a Catholic school for boys, which shelters Jewish child Bonnet (Raphael Fejto). The other boys don't know Bonnet's true status (although they suspect he's different), but Julien finds him out, and befriends him nonetheless.

How others will see it. A subtitled French movie with little action and hardly a pretty girl in sight. This isn't for the hedonist, but the 'serious' movie maven (you know who you are) is certain to be impressed.

How I felt about it. The children aren't portrayed heroically. They're basically normal kids. The heroes are the priests, who risk their lives to protect a small number of Jews.

Would they have done such a thing? Are not the clergy as practical as anyone else? It depends on the individual priest. I believe some would have acted as these devout men did.

Once Julien learns his friend is a Jew, he does not report him to his classmates. This is also completely plausible. If Jews are different mostly because they don't eat pork, according to his logic and limited understanding, then the difference is unimportant. Less important than a friendship, and unworthy of prosecution. Besides, the occupying Germans are disliked, although tolerated, mostly because they are armed and ruthless.

Since the film is effective, and passes the credibility test, what doesn't work? After all, the film grades 83, and not 100. Some criticism can be cast upon Bonnet's character. He's too good to be true: a model student, a gifted pianist, almost a superior species. Ideally, Bonnet should be an average student, not a brilliant one. Being Jewish is not the same as being gifted, or beatified.

Well, then there's Julien's bed wetting, a minor subplot but a needless one. While we're picking nits, Julien's older brother is too brash in his contempt for the German occupiers. Join the Resistance, by all means, but resist covertly, instead of risking your family.

The kids' exercise/play time is done in their school uniforms, and seems somewhat aggressive and dangerous considering they are under priest supervision, such as pushing people around while walking on stilts. Perhaps they are getting prepared for high school football.

All this proves that it is possible to criticise anything. Au revoir, les enfants is an excellent film, and one of a very select number of such movies to be made each year. I come to praise enfants, not to bury it.