Tuesday, May 05, 2015
Au Revoir Les Enfants
Written and directed by Louis Malle, Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye Children) is the story of two boys at a Catholic school as one of them carries a secret during Nazi-occupied France in World War II. Based on Malle’s own childhood experience, the film is a coming-of-age story that plays into the lives of children dealing with a tense situation during World War II. Starring Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Francine Racette, and Irene Jacob. Au Revoir Les Enfants is a tremendous and touching film from Louis Malle.
Set in the winter of 1943-1944 during Nazi Germany’s occupation of France in World War II, the film revolves around the lives of children living in a Catholic school as among them is a returning student and a new one who has arrived to the school with a secret of his own. It’s a film that plays into a period in the life of a young boy who comes from an upper-class family as he meets a boy who is more of a stranger to his new environment yet they become friends through their loves of books. At the same time, Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse) learns something about his new classmate Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto) as he would keep it secret. Even as it plays to what is happening in Europe where Julien realizes what is going on and why Jean was taken in to the school along with a few students.
Louis Malle’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot as it emphasizes more on development to play into Julien’s awareness of his surroundings and his growing friendship with Jean. Jean arrives with some disdain from other classmates including Julien initially for the fact that he’s kind of an oddball as well as being the new kid who is actually better in academics and music than most of his classmates. Eventually, Jean becomes accepted as one of the boys as there’s subplots as it relates to the situation over what is happening outside of the school as the students and their teachers encounter a few German soldiers. Even as there’s also elements of black market where the students trade things with a young kitchen hand named Joseph (Francois Negret) while the boys also become interested in things like sex as it plays into their development. Yet, they’re forced to cope with the realities of their surroundings during the course of a cold winter just as the Nazis try to maintain order as well as assert their own authority into a place of faith and solitude.
Malle’s direction is quite simple as he doesn’t really go for anything that is stylistic with the exception of a few crane shots for a few scenes. Yet, it is mostly intimate with its approach to close-ups and medium shots as it plays into the typical life of what goes in a private Catholic school. Even in its compositions where Malle creates a moment in time as it relates to a boy coming of age during a tense moment in the history of the world as there is a scene where an algebra class is preceded with its teacher talking about what is happening as he is later interrupted by German soldiers. One notable sequence that plays into Julien and Jean’s growing friendship is a treasure hunt in the forest where Malle maintains something that is simple as well as something scary as it relates to the boys’ encounter with Nazi soldiers.
It’s one of a few moments of suspense while Malle also bring in ideas that play more into the reveal of some key characters as it relates to Julien and Jean’s friendship as there is also a funny scene where everyone is watching Charles Chaplin’s The Immigrant to show a world of escapism amidst this tumultuous period in time. It’s a moment where the teachers, staff, and student are all equal as well as the film’s ending as it plays into not just a loss of innocence but also a group of young boys and men of God who are forced to deal with the dark realities of the Nazi occupation. Overall, Malle creates a mesmerizing yet intoxicating film about two boys growing up at a Catholic private school during the Nazi Germany’s occupation of France.
Cinematographer Renato Berta does amazing work with the film‘s low-key cinematography with its usage of dark, grey colors for many of the film‘s locations as well as its emphasis on something natural while using some lights for scenes set at night. Editor Emmanuelle Castro does excellent work with the editing as it is very straightforward as it doesn‘t emphasize on style as it plays into the growing development of the drama. Production designer Willy Holt does fantastic work with the design of the school in its interiors as well as the cave where the boys and teachers hide out during an air raid.
Costume designer Corrine Jory does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly casual with its school uniform and priest robes along with casual clothes from some of the outsiders of the school. The sound work of Jean-Claude Lareux is terrific for its naturalistic approach to sound while capturing the sense of terror during the air raid sirens. The film’s music consists of pieces by Franz Schubert and Camille Saint-Saens as it is mostly played on location as it plays to the period of time as it serves as an emotional tool for Julien and Jean in their growing friendship.
The casting by Jeanne Biras and Iris Carriere is superb as it features notable small performances from Peter Fitz as a Gestapo official who leads the inspections, Stanislas Carre de Malberg as Julien’s older brother Francois who would often tease him but also help him, Francois Bereland as the generous and caring Father Michel, and Irene Jacob in a wonderful performance as the school’s lone music teacher Mademoiselle Davanne who is an outsider of the school. Francine Racette is terrific as Julien and Francois’s mother who adores Julien as she still treats him like a child. Francois Negret is fantastic as the cook helper Joseph who also is a black markets trader that plays an integral part to the story as it relates to what he does and the actions he would create towards the end of the film.
Philippe Morier-Genoud is excellent as the school’s headmaster Father Jean who watches over the school while is very protective of Jean as it relates to his own secret as he presents someone is trying to do something good. Raphael Fejto is amazing as Jean Bonnet as the new boy who arrives to school with a mysterious secret as he is someone that tends to keep to himself but shares his love of books and music to Julien which allows them to become close. Finally, there’s Gaspard Manesse in a brilliant performance as Julien Quentin as a young rich boy who is sort of the top student at the school who is quite dismissive at first towards Jean only to realize that how much they share the same love for books and such as he also copes with Jean’s secret and the realities of the world around him.
Au Revoir Les Enfants is an outstanding film from Louis Malle. Armed with a great cast and a compelling story about hate, faith, and growing up, it is a film that isn’t just one of Malle’s most accessible films but also one of his most personal. Especially as it plays to a period in time that Malle lived through as a child which adds to the intensity of the drama in the film. In the end, Au Revoir Les Enfants is a magnificent film from Louis Malle.
Louis Malle Films: (The Silent World) - Elevator to the Gallows - The Lovers (1958 film) - Zazie dans le metro - (A Very Private Affair) - (Vive Le Tour) - The Fire Within - (Bons baisers de Bangkok) - (Viva Maria!) - (The Thief of Paris) - Spirits of the Dead-William Wilson - (Phantom India) - (Calcutta) - Murmur of the Heart - (Humain, Trop Humain) - Place de la Republique - Lacombe, Lucien - Black Moon - (Close Up (1976 short) - (Dominique Sanda ou Le reve eveille) - Pretty Baby - Atlantic City (1980 film) - (My Dinner with Andre) - Crackers - God’s Country (1985 film) - (Alamo Bay) - (And the Pursuit of Happiness) - (May Fools) - (Damage (1992 film)) - (Vanya on 42nd Street)
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