World War II Marathon: Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye, Little Children, 1987)


Film #33 in the World War II Marathon!

Written By: Louis Malle
Directed By: Louis Malle

Movies can change, they can begin as one thing and end as something completely different. Au Revoir Les Enfants starts as an innocent look at children at a French boarding school and the youthful outlook they have on the adult world around them. That youthful outlook remains throughout, until the final moment of the film in fact. However, once the children go to the bath house the mood of the picture changes. It’s no longer innocent, instead it carries a sense of foreboding doom with it. That doom eventually comes to pass, but it comes to pass in a most unusual manner.

When dealing with a topic such as Jews in World War II the natural inclination is to go for melodrama. Their plight after all is one of the most horrendous illustrations of the evil that resides in humanity. Taking the melodramatic route usually works, and has produced some amazing cinema. Au Revoir Les Enfants chooses to forgo any melodrama, insisting instead on subdued drama. The world of Au Revoir Les Enfants doesn’t have incredible highs or incredible lows, it has events that transpire and affect the denizens of said world. The phrase life goes on fits Au Revoir Les Enfants to a T, that is until that final moment.

I have referenced it a couple of times, and before I go any further I think I need to elaborate on why the ending of Au Revoir Les Enfants is such a game changer. For its run time leading up to the ending Au Revoir Les Enfants is innocent, a war may be raging but it doesn’t really affect these characters in any profound way we are shown on screen. As the German soldiers lead Bonnet, and his fellow Jews away and Julien can do nothing but meekly wave at his friend the true power of the film comes to light. His innocence has been shattered, the war has reached home for him and the viewer is shown that even the most innocent couldn’t evade the tragedies of the second world war.

Another favorite of mine was the Charlie Chaplin scene. First, it’s always fun to watch Chaplin do his thing in a silent picture, even inside of another movie. However the main reason that scene resonated with me was because of its ability to mirror in the kids watching Chaplin the emotions that I as a viewer was going through while watching Au Revoir Les Enfants. It’s a very meta moment, but it’s a doozy of a meta moment.

Au Revoir Les Enfants isn’t a loud or boastful film, it isn’t a complicated film. It saves its truly gut wrenching material for the very end, but after that moment you realize how gut wrenching the rest of the movie was. Au Revoir Les Enfants is a film full of atmosphere, great acting, beautiful imagery and a laid back story structure that is not often employed for the subject matter at hand. Au Revoir Les Enfants is among the best films in the marathon and a movie that everyone should see at some point.




2 responses to “World War II Marathon: Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye, Little Children, 1987)

  1. Agreed. The subdued drama in this film is very effective and gripping.

    Also, Irene Jacob is always awesome.

  2. Irene Jacob has been awesome in everything I’ve seen so far.

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