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Au Revoir, Les Enfants


misswonderly3
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Just saw this great Louis Malle movie for the first time. What a fine piece of filmmaking.

 

SPOILERS

 

 Although I've never attended a French Catholic boys boarding school, (especially not one during the time of occupied France), it felt completely authentic to me. It felt as though I'd been dropped down into this place full of secrets and fear and tentative friendships and was watching it all unfold.

 

All the performances felt as though those kids were the actual kids at the school, not acting. The few adults in the film were equally good.

 

I love the way the two main characters, the schoolboys Julien Quentin and Jean Bonnet /Kippelstein, gradually find their way to friendship. In different ways, they're both very smart. And they both love to read.

 It is heartbreaking how Julien inadvertently betrays his friend to the Gestapo in the end, by a simple turn of the head. Almost certainly the Germans would have found Jean anyway, but equally certain is the fact that the incident will haunt Julien for the rest of his life (as the voice over states at the end of the film.)

 

There are lots of golden moments  in Au Revoir Les Enfants, as when Jean begins to play the piano for the young piano teacher, and her face goes from bored to attentive to moved and respectful. And all those kids on stilts in the schoolyard, playing historical figures and trying to topple each other - it's kind of sweet that the boys even know who those ancient kings are.

 

I've seen quite a few (although by no means all) of Louis Malles' films, and I'd say this has to be one of his best.

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Regarding the piano lesson scene, it ends on a nice little moment were Julien is also watching in quiet awe then mutters to himself, "a**-kisser". He can't quite accept the beauty of what he's witnessing at face level. There are many wonderful, subtle scenes like this.

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It is heartbreaking how Julien inadvertently betrays his friend to the Gestapo in the end, by a simple turn of the head. Almost certainly the Germans would have found Jean anyway, but equally certain is the fact that the incident will haunt Julien for the rest of his life (as the voice over states at the end of the film.)

 

 

Yes, that is Louis Malle's own voice at the end. While Malle admits to have changed certain details, the essence of Malle's actual experience (especially that day in January 1944 when the three Jewish boys were taken) is captured in the movie.

 

One of the most intriguing characters for me is Joseph, the young  kitchen helper at the school who's fired from his job for providing the students with black market items in exchange for their food from home and, in vengeance, alerts the Gestapo to Jewish boys at the school. François Négret is wonderfully memorable in that role.

 

Another wonderful scene is the one in the restaurant where the older Jewish man is harassed by the French collaborationist militia, who are ultimately rebuked by the restaurant staff and other guests including Julien's older brother. Also in that scene, Julien's mother remarks that she has no problem with Jews but becomes upset when Julien suggests that one of their own relatives is Jewish. 

 

One thing I found interesting is that the English subtitles substituted "Easter bonnet" for the literal translation of ''bonnet de nuit" (nightcap), the expression that Jean Bonnet's classmates used to tease him about his name.

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Regarding the piano lesson scene, it ends on a nice little moment were Julien is also watching in quiet awe then mutters to himself, "a**-kisser". He can't quite accept the beauty of what he's witnessing at face level. There are many wonderful, subtle scenes like this.

 

Right, sewhite. In fact,  as you said, that little "bit" showing Julien's jealousy/admiration of the new boy and his musical ability is a nice addition to the whole scene.

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Yes, that is Louis Malle's own voice at the end. While Malle admits to have changed certain details, the essence of Malle's actual experience (especially that day in January 1944 when the three Jewish boys were taken) is captured in the movie.

 

One of the most intriguing characters for me is Joseph, the young  kitchen helper at the school who's fired from his job for providing the students with black market items in exchange for their food from home and, in vengeance, alerts the Gestapo to Jewish boys at the school. François Négret is wonderfully memorable in that role.

 

Another wonderful scene is the one in the restaurant where the older Jewish man is harassed by the French collaborationist militia, who are ultimately rebuked by the restaurant staff and other guests including Julien's older brother. Also in that scene, Julien's mother remarks that she has no problem with Jews but becomes upset when Julien suggests that one of their own relatives is Jewish. 

 

One thing I found interesting is that the English subtitles substituted "Easter bonnet" for the literal translation of ''bonnet de nuit" (nightcap), the expression that Jean Bonnet's classmates used to tease him about his name.

 

Yes, I must admit, I was disappointed in Joseph, since he'd been a character I liked up until that point.

And the restaurant scene is so well done.

When the mother emphatically denied that their family had any Jewish relatives, I thought that might have been more from fear than from anti-Semitism. As we all know, the Nazis were so bent upon finding , rooting out, and imprisoning anyone Jewish or even connected to a Jewish person (as in marriage, for instance), that likely anybody who had even a distant relative who was Jewish would want to keep it quiet.

 

I'm surprised you, me, and sewhite are the only ones evidently who watched this very good film and had anything to say about it. I really enjoyed Louis Malle night. (By the way, it bothered me everytime Robert Osborne said  "Louis Moll". I'm pretty sure it's pronounced "Mal" - like "Al" with an "M" in front. Maybe not, though, I'm not French....)

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I didn't get to see the movie but it's on my "must see" list.  I'll definitely see or tape it the next go-round. 

 

I remember when it came out and the way it was received.  Many people thought Malle would get an Oscar for directing it.  If he was the real-life Julien then confronting this dark part of his past in such a public way took courage.

 

Next time!

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I saw this movie years ago and loved it. As mentioned, I appreciated all the little moments that added realism, as well as loving the look of the film. It's all the more poignant that the characters and victims are children. I wonder if Malle (this was autobiographical, right?) felt guilt about his friend? And that's what drove him to make this film? It probably would have been one of the most powerful memories of his life.

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I saw this movie years ago and loved it. As mentioned, I appreciated all the little moments that added realism, as well as loving the look of the film. It's all the more poignant that the characters and victims are children. I wonder if Malle (this was autobiographical, right?) felt guilt about his friend? And that's what drove him to make this film? It probably would have been one of the most powerful memories of his life.

 

Yes, AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS is inspired by events that occurred in January 1944 when the 12-year-old Louis Malle was attending a Jesuit boarding school near Fontainebleau. Malle has admitted to changing and adding certain details (having Julien look back at Jean in the classroom when the Gestapo agents are present may have been one such detail) but the essence of Malle's experience is portrayed in the film.

I guess it's what would be referred to as semi-autobiographical. 

 

Here's what Malle has said about his friend (whose real name was Hans Michel not Jean Kippelstein):

 

I was a very good student, but he was always a little in front of me. . . . We were both very shy, and he stayed away from having any sort of a deep relationship because he didn't want to give away who he was, but I know that I felt he was going to become my best friend. In this case, it didn't happen, and it was so brutal, so unacceptable, because he was taken away from me.

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Something I meant to say earlier about this film.

It's interesting the way the quasi-Louis Malle character, Julien Quentin, is depicted. At first I didn't like him, thought him arrogant and a bit bully-ish (despite his slight build). 

But as the story progresses, I found myself liking him more and more. The arrogance and bossiness were just a protective device Julien used, since he did not have any close friends. It's quite lovely to see the tentative way the delicate friendship between Julien and Jean develops.

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Something I meant to say earlier about this film.

It's interesting the way the quasi-Louis Malle character, Julien Quentin, is depicted. At first I didn't like him, thought him arrogant and a bit bully-ish (despite his slight build). 

But as the story progresses, I found myself liking him more and more. The arrogance and bossiness were just a protective device Julien used, since he did not have any close friends. It's quite lovely to see the tentative way the delicate friendship between Julien and Jean develops.

 

It's interesting that Malle has Julien's mother jokingly comment to him before he boards the train to school that she'd like to disguise herself as a boy and be with him at school.

Then later at school he begins to form a friendship with a boy who is "in disguise."

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