Au Revoir Les Enfants is available to rent or buy.
Louis Malle’s 1987 masterpiece Au Revoir Les Enfants is a genuinely breathtaking exploration of the end of childhood innocence during war. One that shines with natural and unforced performances that display the innocence of youth in the face of conflict, destruction and hate.
Set in a Catholic boarding school in Nazi-occupied France in 1944, twelve-year-old Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is caught between the ideology of occupation and a community of silent rebellion. Here Julien struggles to unpick the feelings and thoughts of the adults surrounding him as he quietly watches the conflict unfold from a position of relative safety. But when a new boy enrols at the school, Jean (Raphaël Fejtö), Julien finds a new friend who is just as artistic and curious as him. While quiet and reserved, Jean allows Julian to escape his confusion, but as their friendship grows, Julian also finds himself perplexed by Jean’s protection in the hands of the school’s headmaster. Here his young mind cannot grasp that Jean’s enrollment at the school hides a secret that, if uncovered, could lead to disaster for Jean and the teachers protecting him.
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Au Revoir Les Enfants is partly based on Malle’s own childhood experience, and this relationship with the director’s memories and emotions permeate every frame. Malle’s film is an ode to lost innocence that transcends the typical war movie. Here he delicately dissects the complex relationship between religion, community, collaboration and rebellion in occupied France through the eyes of two pre-teen boys. The result is a beautiful yet heartwrenching journey into the horror of occupation and the silence of revolution for two children on the verge of adolescence. This creates a film that plays with youth’s confusion, conflicted beliefs and emotions in the face of political persecution and genocide.
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Timeless in its beauty and emotional power, Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants is undoubtedly one of the most powerful Holocaust dramas and coming of age movies ever made. Here we see the comforting cloak of childhood innocence lifted as the horror of the Holocaust invades a sleepy yet divided French town. But even more powerful is Malle’s exploration of the shattered innocence of a naive yet curious young boy as the reality of war consumes him.