Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
Director: Louis Malle
Writer: Louis Malle
Actors: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette
The atrocities that occurred to the Jewish people during World War II is a topic that has been covered in many films throughout the years. Rightfully so, since the topic at hand is so raw, real, and utterly cruel. However, my issue is that once you have seen most of the films relating to this topic it starts to lose its potency. The reason being is that these films usually take a very similar perspective. You’ve seen it many times in films like The Pianist, Schindler’s List, and many more. So whenever I watch a film about the Nazi atrocities, I try to look for something that gives me a new perspective on the matter. Something that make me feel the weight of the issue the first time I read about it in for example Wiesel’s book Night. Au Revoir Les Enfants has that unique perspective that I was looking for. It makes us look at this event through the eyes of neutral children.
I love the way the film gave us this unique take on the events happening in World War II. The reason being that kids dont really understand why all of these things are happening. Julien for more than half of the film did not even know what it meant to be “Jewish”. And even when he did, just thought of them as smart people who did not eat pork. This simplistic take makes us realize how inhumane the atrocities carried out were. At the end of the day, we are all people. These subtle differences do not warrant such treatment. That is what is shown with this film. Julien throughout the film is so confused with the way Germans have been treating Jewish people. He can’t comprehend why they are treated so badly. To him we are all the same. That is what he saw with Bonnet as well. As he got to know him, he saw past his labels and just saw another kid, a friend. That is what the director wanted us to get out of the film. That is why the film is shot through the eyes of kids. They still possess an innate human compassion that gets lost and muddied once ideas start coming in between it. Government, religion, politics, ideology, and so many more just keep piling up on that compassion until it is no longer there. That is what is scary about humans and we should never forget that fact.
Aside from the interesting perspective. The film has a very heartwarming story. The day to day interactions between the children of the school helped distract the viewers from what was really happening. Even if it was just for a bit. Furthermore, the friendship between Julien and Jean Bonnet was captivating. The way Julien slowly changes from absolutely hating Bonnet to remembering him for the rest of his life was done so well. Because you could see the progression with each discovery. With each interaction you would notice the subtle change in the way he treats Bonnet, and slowly but surely he starts to like him. It was a great story to follow. I guess my only gripe with the film is that I can’t find anymore substance past what I explained in the previous paragraph. The normal day to day interactions are lighthearted as I said, but they don’t really add anything other than keeping the film entertaining until it gets to what it actually wants to say. There is nothing wrong with that by any means. But it just wasn’t what I was looking for fully.
Au Revoir Les Enfants is a very important film in regards to capturing the atrocities against the Jews during World War II. Because it gives us a unique perspective on the issue. By making us look at the situation through the eyes of children, we see how actually idiotic and cruel people can be when their vision is blurred with power, ideology, and corruption. We must always remember to look at the world the way that Julien looked at Bonnet, as he was taken away to his death, just for being born. It is a sad sentiment, but one that we should never forget.