Au Revoir les Enfants, written and directed by Louis Malle
This is an arresting, monumental film, one of the best ever made, with a worthwhile, remarkable, unforgettable narrative about the ordeal suffered by the Jewish people and those who tried to help them, at the hands of the Gestapo and the Nazis, during the awful period of World War II.
In the first scene, Madame Quentin is at the railway station with her two sons, the elder Francois and one of the heroes of this motion picture, the younger Julien Quentin, as the boys depart for studies, away from the danger of war and the German Conquistadores and their abuses.
This family is rich, so much so that the father takes offence when parents visit children at the Catholic boarding school and the father superior, Jean, has a sermon that insists on wealth that corrupts souls and he quotes the famous, but often unheeded passage that mentions “it would be more difficult for a wealthy man to enter heaven than for the camel to pass through the needle”
Julien Quentin meets the other main character of this feature, Jean Bonnet, and the former learns early on that the real name of the latter is not Bonnet but something like Blumenfeld and after this discovery, made by prying into the boy’s locker; he keeps asking questions that Jean does not wish to answer.
During World War II, the fascists hunted Jewish people and other minorities and communities that they saw as inferior to their own, supposedly superior Arian stock, and sent them to die in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other such terrible, death camps.
When they talk about letters and communication, Jean Bonnet explains with grief that his father is a prisoner and he has not heard from his mother, who lives in the free territory of France, which attracts a protest from his interlocutor, who points out that there is no part of the country unoccupied.
In the Catholic school, the situation seems to be rather normal, especially when considering the destitution associated with the war, even when taking into account the cold that is ever present and makes students complain, because they suffer from it in class and the dormitories, where given their large numbers, they at least benefit from the warmth emanated by so many bodies.
Julien is still wetting his bed at night and this attracts the scorn and mockery of colleagues who start shouting about it, as soon as they notice it, but the boy explains to his Jewish friend that, during his sleep, he feels very good, has the sensation that all is fine, he can pee and then he wakes up all wet around the stomach.
The boys are involved in a sort of black market, as they exchange goods, mostly food they receive with Joseph, a young man, Joseph, who is not studying, but is employed as a sort of a help at the kitchen, where he felt he would do well, but now complains that the cook is worse than the alternative.
In exchange for jam, pate and other rater rare delicacies, Joseph provides what his trading partners want, which is often cigarettes and sometimes it involves money, only he also steals from the supplies and that would attract punishment, which in turn would show a despicable side of this man, who is responsible for the death of innocent teenagers.
One day, as they take part in a treasure hunt, Julien and Jean lose their way and the former finds the treasure, only it is late and they would have to be back, inside the walls of the boarding school and as they reach a road, a car is approaching and some Nazi soldiers come out, and the boy who is aware of his dangerous situation runs away from the enemy.
Later on, when the parents come to visit on the special day dedicated to this gathering, Jean has nobody to see him and his friend convinces his mother to take him along at the restaurant, in the city nearby, where a patrol of collaborationists enters the hall, asking for paper and insulting a man who had Jewish papers and therefore was not allowed inside.
A young, good looking girl plays the piano and she is the only female to walk in the premises where teachers and students are all male, attracting all the attention- well, almost all- as she plays the instrument in class and also during the projection of motion pictures with Charlie Chaplin.
One day, Joseph steals from the food supplies and is discovered by the cook and the father superior is calling those seven who traded with him, tells them they are not expelled only because he knows their parents, only the thief is dismissed, in spite of his protests and the fact that he has no place to sleep.
Alas, he finds a solution to that very quickly and he calls on the Gestapo with information, which would have disastrous effects and prompts the thought that Emotional Intelligence was not used in dealing with this case, although it has to be underlined that those who decided to punish, perhaps a bit too harshly, the young criminal would have to suffer much more than he did.
The boys are in class, and their teacher is placing the combatants on the map, stating that London Radio programs indicate that the Soviets have pushed the fascists far into the Ukraine, allies are fighting near Monte Casino, but Paris Radio, still controlled by the Vichy regime, gives other coordinates for battles.
As Aristotle advocated, the golden mean would suggest that the best option lies not in the extremes, but in the middle and the professor opines that the front line is probably in between the longitudes given by the two opposing media sources.
The Gestapo enters the room and the officer takes down the marks for these battles on the line and talks about the superiority of the German soldier, who has discipline, a quality that is lacking in the French, at least according to this messenger form Hades, who is there to take people to death…
This jewel, chef d’oeuvre has wonders in many places, including the scene where teenage boys discuss religion:
- “St. Thomas's proofs of God's existence don't hold water…
- I do not agree. Since we can imagine God, he must exist.
- That is just sophistry. At least Bergson seeks transcendence in science.”