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March 19, 1988 - Image 66

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-03-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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FRIDAY, MARCH 18, 1988

Youth, War Juxtaposed
In New Louis Malle Film

HEIDI PRESS

News Editor

I

nnocent, carefree youth
sheltered at a French '
convent school during
World War II. A once-cautious
friendship blooming into full
kinship until the horrors of
Nazism shatter it to pieces. It
is against this backdrop that
filmmaker Louis Malle
presents his current work, Au
Revoir, Les Enfants (Goodbye
Children).
In his film (in French with
English subtitles) opening
tonight at the Detroit Film
Theater of the Detroit In-
stitute of Arts, Malle
recreates a time in his life,
which he says at the end of
the movie, he will never
forget.
The nearly two-hour film,
which is based on Malle's own
wartime experiences,
recreates the friendship bet-
ween Julien Quentin
(representing the adolescent
Malle) and a fellow student,
Jean Bonnet, whom the
future filmmaker discovers is
a Jew — real name Kippel-
stein — being hidden from the
Germans by Father Jean, the
school headmaster. How inno-
cent Quentin is, how
precocious, how protected
from the heinousness which
takes place outside his small
universe. For example, Quen-
tin asks his older brother, also
a student at the school,
"What is a Jew?" to which his
brother replies, "They don't
eat pork, and they crucified
Jesus." But the brother is
more interested in chasing
girls than discussing Jews.
By letting the children be
children, Malle allows his
young actors to tell the tale.
He films them in class, at
play, reading under flash-
lights in their beds, rough-
housing. They carry on their
daily routines aware of the
soldiers, the air raids, the
bombings, but are really
quite naive about the
atrocities perpetrated close to
home as they sit in class and
study the geography of
Europe.
The story centers around
the arrival of a new student,
Bonnet, whom the students
take great delight in calling
-"Easter Bonnet." But it is a
pseudonym to protect the
Jewish boy from a fate that
has already led his father to
incarceration in a POW camp.
Bonnet is bright in school,
talented . as an artist and
pianist, and a voracious

A German soldier escorts the headmaster of the convent school and his
three Jewish wards in a scene from Au Revoir, Les Enfants (Goodbye,
Children).

reader, arriving with a suit-
case stuffed with books.,, Soon,
_
he and Quentin, a wheeler-
dealer, who trades food and
God-knows-what with the
other boys, become friends. At
first, Quentin is jealous of the
new boy, but soon he allows
Bonnet to teach him how to
improve his piano playing
and the two join in for a
boogie-woogie session filled
with giggles. -

By letting the
children be
children, Malle
allows his young
actors to tell the
tale. He films them
in class, at play,
reading under
flashlights in their
beds,
roughhousing.

Malle is wise not to force
the Nazi aspect of the film. Of
course, Nazis appear
periodically. In one scene, a
group gives a ride to Bonnet
and Quentin when they get
lost in the woods after a
treasure hunt. In another, a
Nazi soldier comes to the
school for confession. But it is
the naivete and innocence of
the young schoolboys that are
the focus of the film. When
the soldiers make their final
pass through the school, it is
then that the children — and
the audience — feel the enor-
mity of the evil that they
represent. It is then that the
boys lose their innocence.
Young Quentin has plenty
of opportunities to betray
Bonnet. He discovers the

Jewish boy's true identity by
snooping in his locker. Late
one evening, as the children
are supposed to be sleeping,
he discovers his friend daven-
ing over Shabbat candles.
When both are laid up in the
infirmary he asks "How do
you pronounce it — Kippels-
tein of Kippelsteen?" Despite
being the conniver, Quentin
proves he has more smarts
than the audience is led to
believe; and he is not the
betrayer after all.
Malle, who wrote, produced
and directed Au Revoir; Les
Enfants, waited many years
before committing his
memories to film. He told the
New York Times: "When I
first started getting involved
in films, I didn't want to do
this one. It was too com-
plicated, too personal, too in-
timate, too difficult. Then, as
I became more of a film-
maker, it occurred to me that
I should deal with it, but I
didn't know how. It was a very
intense, but very short ex-
perience, and how to make a
film out of it was very dif-
ficult."
Whatever his difficulties,
Malle has created an ex-
ceedingly touching, sensitive,
delicate work. Au Revoir, Les
Enfants warmly touches
memories of youth as well as
that one special moment
when innocence is lost and
maturity found.
Au Revoir, Les Enfants can
be seen at the Detroit Film
Theater at the Detroit Institute
of Arts at 7 and 9:30 p.m. to-
day and Saturday; 5, 7 and 9
p. m. Sunday; 7 and 9:30 p.m.
March 25 and 26 and at 1, 4,
7 and 9 p.m. March 27. For
tickets, call the DFT box office,
832-2730.

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