Au Revoir Les Enfants wasn’t just one of Louis Malle’s best works, it also remains as one of the finest war time dramas ever made. Interestingly, as the name suggests, instead of being dominated by adults, the principal protagonist here was a kid, with the story taking place at a Catholic boarding school in Naxi-occupied France. Julien, one of the boarders there, is an 11-year old kid who is outwardly cocky but a confused soul within grappling with his hormones and besotted with his pretty piano teacher (Irene Jacobs). Unbeknownst to him, the school’s seemingly strict and orthodox principal has been hiding Jews in order to prevent their persecution at the hands of their country’s ruthless occupiers. Jean, a shy and soft-spoken new boarder, happens to be one such closet Jew residing under a false identity. Though their acquaintance doesn’t begin on a soft pedal, before long Julien and Jean become close friends; and though some initial complexities arise when Julien inadvertently stumbles upon Jean’s true identity, their bond grows even stronger after that. However, as expected, tragedy strikes before long, and the film ends on a heart-wrenching note with the young but fast maturing Julien finding himself a helpless bystander to history. Despite dealing with a subject as devastating as this, Malle succeeded in keeping emotions under control, thus giving a wonderfully understated feel to the proceedings. The film was semi-autobiographical in nature and thus a deeply personal project for him, and his carefully controlled emotions finally broke through in the heartbreaking monologue of the protagonist that this wonderfully enacted coming-of-age film ended with.
Director: Louis Malle
Genre: Drama/War Drama/Coming-of-Age