“Au Revoir les Enfants”, the autobiographical movie by Louis Malle
When the French movie director Louis Malle made “Lacombe, Lucien” in 1974 he knew he was touching on a very sore subject. The story of a teenage peasant who joins up with the Gestapo after being rejected as too young by the French Resistance, “Lacombe, Lucien” documents one person’s journey to the dark side, and it’s a disturbing sight.
The young actor Pierre Blaise as Lucien Lacombe
When Louis Malle made “Lacombe, Lucien”, not many people knew that the story was based on a traumatic event from his own childhood and that he didn’t feel emotionally prepared for the challenge of depicting this at the time. He therefore decided to tell a fictionalized version of his childhood experience. Louis Malle knew he was asking for trouble and when the film was released, many French critics despised it for its apparent attack on the moral purity of the Resistance.
Louis Malle left shortly after to go to America where he directed movies like “Pretty Baby”, “Atlantic City“ and “My dinner with Andre“.
Brooke Shields in “Pretty Baby”
Louis Malle decided when he came back to France to finally make the autobiographical “Au Revoir les Enfants” in 1987. The story is based on true events in his childhood, when at age 11 he was attending a Roman Catholic boarding school near Fontainebleau. One day, he witnessed a Gestapo raid in which three Jewish students and a Jewish teacher were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz.
In “Au Revoir les Enfants“ a clandestine Jewish boy and the rich bourgeois boy become friends.
The school’s headmaster, Père Jacques, was arrested for harboring them and sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. He died shortly after the camp was liberated by the U.S. Army, having refused to leave until the last French prisoner was repatriated. Forty years later Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, granted Père Jacques the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
Father Jacques, “Père Jean” in the movie
In 1988 Louis Malle told a New York Times reporter: ”This was, for me, by far the strongest impression of my childhood, the memory that remains above all the others in vividness”. He told that he remembers how Father Jacques, as he was being led away with his three Jewish students, turned to the watching students and said: ”Au revoir et a bientot” (Goodbye and see you soon.) Then, he said, “something took place that was very bizarre. Somebody started to applaud and then everybody was applauding, despite the shouts of the Gestapo to keep quiet”.