Director: Louis Malle, France
Set in a school in occupied France in World War Two. Julien and Jean are fellow boarders and their loyalty to each other contrasts sharply with what is happening in the adult world. The film examines how stressful times can bring out the best as well as the worst in us.
Louis Malle’s quasi-autobiographical masterpiece Au Revoir Les Enfants is breathtakingly good. There is a miraculous, unforced ease and naturalness in the acting and direction; it is classic movie storytelling in the service of important themes, including the farewell that we must bid to our childhood, and to our innocence – a farewell repeated all our lives in the act of memory. Every line, every scene, every shot, is composed with mastery. It has to be seen.
The movie was a project close to Louis Malle’s heart (he was in tears when the film premiered at a film festival in 1987) and it shows in the multi-layered treatment he gives the central setting, this fascinating boarding school with its broad cast of characters. French film is characteristically digressive, often to a fault, but here it works to splendid advantage. It also lends itself to repeat viewings. There is an unexpected sense of spirituality throughout this film, somewhat muted but there all the same. This may well stand as the cinematic masterpiece of a man who, at his best was to motion pictures what his countrymen Zola and Hugo were to novels: An artist who filled his canvas with the verve and breadth of human life.