Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Unlikeable Little Squit

I was recently invited into The Cineastes, a group of bloggers who review a film a month and link their blogs in the hope of spreading the word of whatever it is they're on about at that point.

August's film is Au Revoir Les Enfants, directed by Louis Malle in 1987, and what follows is what happens when you strain French cinema through the fabric of an Incredible Suit.

Au Revoir Les Enfants is set in a Catholic boys' boarding school in Nazi-occupied France in 1944, and is the story of Julien, an unlikeable little squit whose hair is styled into magnificent curtains that wouldn't look out of place in the palace of Versailles, and his friendship with Jean, who looks uncannily like Dexter Fletcher when he was in Press Gang.

Curtains is a defensive little terrier who'll fight anyone who threatens to pinch his jam, though it's clear that his bravado is a masquerade to cover the fact that he's the least mature of all the boys, desperately missing his mum and regularly soaking his sheets with wee wee water. When Little Dexter joins the school, Curtains is initially aggressive but gradually becomes drawn to him, and when it turns out that Little Dexter has a dark secret - he's a Jew hiding from the Gestapo - Curtains becomes oddly fascinated.

While on the surface Au Revoir Les Enfants is a moving story about friendship and childhood, it's also a metaphor for the treacherous path to adulthood. Amongst the excitement of discovering alcohol, cigarettes, girls and porn, Curtains has to face his fears, lose his selfish streak and generally become a man over the course of a few short weeks.

The title itself is a big clue to the theme of the film, and it's only at the very end that we hear the voice of a 50-something-year-old Curtains, grown up physically but never able to forget the day he lost his innocence and much more, waving farewell to childhood as circumstances force him into manhood before he's ready.

Louis Malle tells his largely autobiographical story efficiently and with a good grasp on what it's like to be a snotty brat at a time when global warfare was less traumatising than wetting the bed, and the whole film is shot in the murky greys of a French winter fading in Malle's memory banks for 40-odd years. And though the acting occasionally leaves a little to be desired, the writing and direction give us all we need to transport ourselves to a time of innocence, curiosity and floppy hair.

Au Revoir Les Enfants isn't the kind of film The Incredible Suit would choose to sit down and watch on a day off from the coal face of bloggery, but it's always worth sitting in someone else's comfort zone for a couple of hours just to see if the indentation left by their bottom is a similar shape to yours. In this case I can safely say that I won't be rushing off to buy a Louis Malle box set, but I'll certainly pay more attention to him in the future. In fact on the strength of this film alone he could easily bring the realism of teen angst to the final Harry Potter film. If he wasn't dead, obviously.

To comment on this post, click here

You can read the rest of The Cineastes’ reviews of Au Revoir Les Enfants by clicking their links below:

Allan Gray’s Imagination
The Bronze
Octopus Cinema
Walking In The Cinema
Hope Lies At 24 Frames Per Second
Nouvelle Vague Cinematheque
The Third Act


  1. Aux revoir les enfants bonjour Lord of the Flies (1963). For a rite of passage choose the babbling Brook rather than a trip down the Malle. More, je ne sais quoi, oomph.

  2. Louis Malle 'Le Souffle Au Coeur'(1971) was his earlier try at the genre. Amelie (2001) is by far the best kid movie in french.

  3. Tony, I don't see what's so great about a film about souffles. Amelie's overrated. Lord Of The Flies reminds me of GCSE English, and not in a good way ;-)

  4. Your post's tone is kind of a welcome relief, it's kind of relaxing to read about someone as seriously emotional a character as Julien being referred to as 'Curtains'. Great stuff.

  5. Many thanks Joshua. Hopefully still respectful enough to not be booted Inglouriously out of The Cineastes!

  6. No worries, the Cineastes has no concept of "respectful" writing. You can say whatever the hell you want.

    And like Josh, I sort of enjoyed the rather comedic take on such a serious piece of film.