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Au Revoir, Les Enfants

"One of the foundations of Louis Malle's Au Revoir, les Enfants (1987) is how naturally he evokes the daily life of a French boarding school in 1944. His central story shows young life hurtling forward; he knows, because he was there, that some of these lives will be exterminated."

"The film centers on the friendship of two boys of 12, Julien Quentin and Jean Bonnet. They are played by Gaspard Manesse and Raphael Fejto. They had never acted before and barely acted again. Julien's father is always absent at his factory; his glamorous mother wants him safely away from Paris, and sends him by train to a Catholic school for rich children. Here he will find priests and teachers he respects, and classrooms where the students actually seem happy. One day after Christmas, a new student arrives: Jean."

"Of course the others pick on the newcomer, and Julien joins in. Sometimes at that age fights are a form of expressing friendship, and often enough they end in laughter. They both love to read. Gradually, through a series of signs so subtle the other boys never pick up on them, Julian learns that Jean is concealing a secret. Is it the way he avoids questions about his family? The fact that he doesn't recite the prayers with everyone else, and skips choir practice? Julien notices that when Jean kneels at the altar rail, the priest quietly passes without giving him a communion wafer. In Jean's locker, Julien finds a book from which the name has not entirely been removed. The name is Kippelstein."

"'Au Revoir, les Enfants' is based on a wartime memory of Louis Malle (1932-1995), who attended this very school, le Petit-College d'Avon, which was attached to a Carmelite monastery near Fountainebleau. The school, like many Catholic schools and other organizations, took in Jewish children under assumed names to shelter them from the Nazis; partly as a result, some 75 percent of French Jews survived the war, according to an essay by Francis J. Murphy."

"Malle never forgot the day when Nazis raided the Petit-College and arrested three Jewish students and the headmaster (Father Jacques in life, Father Jean in the film). The students and their teachers lined up in the courtyard as the little group was marched off the grounds; the priest looked back at them and said, 'Au revoir, les enfants.' Goodbye, children. The three boys died at Auschwitz. The priest, whose birth name was Lucien Bunuel, nursed others and shared his rations at the Mauthausen camp, where he died four weeks after the war ended."

"I remember the day "Au Revoir, les Enfants" was shown for the first time, at the 1987 Telluride Film Festival. I had come to know Louis Malle a little since a dinner we had in 1972; he was the most approachable of great directors. I was almost the first person he saw after the screening. I remember him weeping as he clasped my hands and said, "This film is my story. Now it is told at last.'" ------ Roger Ebert

DVD - The Criterion Collection

  • Widescreen
  • Available Audio Tracks: French (Dolby Digital 1.1)
  • Available Subtitles: English
  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer supervised by director of photography Renato Berta
  • Original theatrical trailer and teaser
  • A new essay by film critic Philip Kemp
  • New and improved English subtitle translation

Curator's Comments:
Read Roger Ebert's essay on this DVD Classic.

Director: Louis Malle
110 minutes
Released: 1987
Rated: PG

Country: France/Germany
Language: French
Genre: Drama

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