Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
July 24, 2015 3:27 PM - Subscribe

During World War II, two rival boys at a French boarding school eventually form a bond and share a heavy secret. Directed by Louis Malle, this largely autobiographical film won the Golden Lion at the 1987 Venice Film Festival.

Part of the Criterion On Hulu film club. This film was streaming for free on Hulu this week as part of Criterion's weekly free film festival. You can vote on next week's film here: Criterion Free Movie Of The Week
posted by Ian A.T. (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I saw this years ago and I remember it being really good. IIRC, it could be a good movie to sit down and watch with your kids, in the sense that it could spark some conversations about being a kid and what your kids would do if they were in situations like this. It's rather dark, but the kind of dark that a budding little cinephile might appreciate. (I don't have kids, but when I was a kid my dad would sit down with me and we'd watch old stuff like Billy Liar and The 400 Blows and god damn I have an awesome dad.)

Louis Malle is best known in the US for directing My Dinner with Andre, which is great in its own way but very different from this.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:16 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

You're right. It really would be a good movie to see with your kids, particularly for the fact that it doesn't gloss over the fact that horrible things were happening and try to shoehorn in some inspiring message or happy ending. Maybe because it's based on a true story, and the true stories of the Holocaust don't usually have those.

It made me think of something Stanley Kubrick reportedly said about Schindler's List, “That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who don’t.”

Malles' story isn't about the Jewish experience in WWII, but it's a real story about real people who experienced the effects second hand, as a lot of people did, and it's told in a way that, while not fully exploring the enormity of what was happening, at least doesn't sugar coat it.

(I followed it up by watching Night and Fog, which is much too much for young kids.)

*I usually try not to spoil things too much in these threads, but I'm spoiling pretty hard in here.*

Julien is a regular, stupid kid. It takes him forever to grasp what's happening, and even when he figures out Jean's secret, he still never seems quite sure about it, as he continues testing a hypothesis that has already been proven (like with the pate), and trying to figure out what it means without admitting that he doesn't know already.

Jean might be a little too martyr like at times. I suppose he would be mature beyond his years considering his situation, but he comes across as faultless almost. He's the best at everything, but he's humble, and even as they're leading him away, his first thought is to reassure Julien that it's not his fault, even though he knows it was Julien's glance that tipped off the Gestapo. But maybe some unreliable narration in the characterization is appropriate. It's a story about kids, from a kid's perspective, so if this is a story from Julien's perspective, that probably would be the way he remembers Jean.

And I really appreciated how it humanized everyone without clearly delineating bad guys vs. good guys. In the scene in the restaurant and when they return the boys to school, the Germans are kind or at least human. And Joseph, who was responsible for the ultimate betrayal, is a sympathetic character as well, who has a legitimate grudge. He's just a kid, though, too, living in an environment so horrific that even a simple act of adolescent retribution can have horrific consequences.

The title makes sense now.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:59 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen this in a few years - since I went on a Louis Malle binge and watched like 10 of his films. It was striking how different they are from each other. Elevator to the Gallows, Pretty Baby, his early documentaries. I guess what I retain about Au Revoir is the deep investment in creating a mood and feel, which might be a common theme across these fairly different films.

I know the film is somewhat autobiographical - I felt that the details and feel of the school were created with great care, perhaps from memory? I'm not sure if there's a larger message about all of our ineficacy, or if it's his simple story of his own sad complicity.
posted by latkes at 6:08 PM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen this in a few years - since I went on a Louis Malle binge and watched like 10 of his films. It was striking how different they are from each other.

I think Malle is one of the greats, and I think his versatility and subtlety rob him of a portion of his dues. He reminds me of Soderbergh - or rather, Soderbergh reminds me of him - in that he displays an almost instinctual filmic literacy that never really descends into aping or empty homage, a facility behind the camera that means every single moment in his movies have a weight, and, despite the lightness, a significance. A Malle movie really is a masterclass in cinema, in my opinion.
posted by smoke at 7:45 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I was super taken with him for a little bit. Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory, so the details of a lot of his films are lost to me. For some reason I remember Vive Le Tour very clearly though - delightful! It's on Hulu too, and only 18 minutes!
posted by latkes at 8:33 PM on July 26, 2015

The very last scene of this picture is absolutely one of the two or three most devastating things I've ever seen in the movies. I cry just thinking about it, forget about watching it.
posted by holborne at 8:43 AM on July 27, 2015

At school we watched this movie at least 10 times. It was the go to movie for a large number of teachers if they needed something to put on. Sadly that meant it lost a lot of it's emotional resonance to the class and there were at times audible groaning when it was suggested. That said I remember it fondly and there are a lot of scene that I remember, like when the older brother lies and says he only smokes clove cigarettes.
posted by Carillon at 4:44 PM on July 29, 2015

I don't know that I agree that Julien is a stupid kid. I think he figures it out relatively early on. Seeing Jean praying leaves no doubt, but he keeps poking until he discovers the book because he's nosy. Then he teases Jean because that's what boys that age do.

I think Jean was right that the Gestapo agent was going to find him either way. As the scene in the schoolyard where he calls out de la Rozier shows, he was going on looks as much as anything else. Even so, Julien — really Malle himself — lives the rest of his days wracked with guilt that it was his furtive glance that gave his friend away.

Father Jean calls out, "Au revoir, les enfants!" as he's taken away, something that stuck with Malle for decades until he made this movie. It's worth noting that the man Father Jean was based on, called Father Jacques by his students but real name Lucien Bunel, was enrolled among the Righteous of the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1985.

P.S. The music the Greek and Piano teachers were playing during the Chaplin movie was right on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn't come up with it and it was driving me crazy. So I had to admit defeat and Soundhound it. It's Saint Saëns, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor, Op. 28.

P.P.S. I've had books to read, so I haven't been keeping up my subtitled movie quotient. I'm gonna get to L'Assassin Habite au 21 and The Earrings of Madame de... Real Soon Now.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:17 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

This would have been a much better movie without the voice-over at the end, which kind of ruins it for me. The details of the school, though, are very well-rendered.
posted by matcha action at 5:02 AM on July 31, 2015

Finally catching up with some of the Hulu/Criterion club films that I've missed. This one was just devastating. The one thing that really struck me was how he seemed to be saying that the hazing and practical jokes of the boys was really a small scale version of the mob brutality of the Nazis.
posted by octothorpe at 4:34 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

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