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  • Writer's pictureEugene

Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)

Updated: Jan 7

It was a joy to see a full house for the first film of 2024. Louis Malle’s 1987 subtle film, based on his own childhood experience in a boys’ Catholic boarding school in Nazi occupied France during the Second World War, was a moving experience. We discussed the way in which the story, a ‘re-invention’ from Malle’s past, is seen through young Julien’s eyes. This makes the final farewell scene even more devastating. Three Jewish boys and their inspirational headmaster Father Jacques are taken away by the Gestapo. In real life, the boys were killed at Auschwitz and Father Jacques died shortly after his camp at Mauthausen was liberated.


We talked some time about whether a threat was conveyed in the film, as it starts very innocently, with the school an insulated haven against what is happening in the wider world. However, we felt there was an underlying ‘seething tragedy waiting to happen.’  The everyday school moments – such as the time when pupils and staff delight in watching a Chaplin film – are a lull before the inevitable storm.


Our French speaking member of our discussion group felt that the subtitles didn’t do justice to the humour and camaraderie conveyed between the pupils.  We were intrigued by the character of Joseph, the kitchen boy involved in black market trading. He does deals with the boys, who come from affluent families. Joseph is disabled, his features could suggest he has a gypsy background, although this isn’t stated. He is mocked by the boys. It is interesting how this outsider becomes a collaborator and sets the final tragic outcome in motion.


We found it very uplifting to see religious figures represented so positively and doing their duty at a challenging time. Headmaster Father Jacques sets a strong moral tone, not afraid to lecture the wealthy parents about apathy, corruption and selfishness. So much so that one parents walks out from his sermon. Clara and Phillipe, a Jewish couple who were in the Belgian Resistance, appeared in one of our short films. They were also given help and money from a priest when they escaped from a train going to Auschwitz.


The long lingering shots on faces and focus on movement – the brief turn that Julien makes to his friend Jean, that exposes him as Jewish, the short wave he gives when he sees Jean for the last time – all convey such depth of feeling. This emotional intensity is what makes French films of this era so special to many of our discussion group. Schubert’s music in this film added to its power.



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Jeanne Pope
Jeanne Pope
Jan 07

This was not easy to watch, however, the mastery of this delicate and deeply moving film was, as was pointed out, all those details that are felt, not said with music which carries the tragedy with it. Thank you Rusthall for giving us not only the chance to view these films, along with the suberbly chosen shorts which always enhance the viewing, but the chance to talk afterwards about why we enjoyed, or did not, the film.

This is simply a masterpiece, and a reminder to us all, how fragile life is, and special is friendship.

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