Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)

Directed by Louis Malle

Au revoir les enfants tells a heartbreaking story of friendship and devastating loss concerning two boys living in Nazi-occupied France. At a provincial Catholic boarding school, the precocious youths enjoy true camaraderie—until a secret is revealed. Based on events from writer-director Malle’s own childhood, the film is a subtle, precisely observed tale of courage, cowardice, and tragic awakening.

In lesser hands, the film's combination of symbolism, nostalgia and righteousness would be a little too much and it would overly sentimentalise this shameful period of French history — think of all of the other now-cringeworthy films about the Holocaust made just a few years later.

But in Au Revoir les Enfants, it approaches perfection. The overt theme of, say, The Immigrant (1917) is not overplayed; and neither is the parting gift of Arabian Nights. which, after all, features a protagonist who must keep alive from day-to-day… A film of looks as well, perhaps, including (my favourite) the infinitesimally brief flash of irritation in the Gestapo leader's face when his Herrenrasse soldier must put on glasses to read the names of the children in the playground.

Saying that, it is too convenient that Bonnet into the Jewish stereotype of the natural musician, and I would have much preferred it if we never had the extended confirmation and justification in dialogue that it was Joseph the kitchen helper who exposed the school in the end — surely the looks exchanged between them was testimony enough. Still, that freeze-frame in the final minute is what cinema was made for.