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Film / Au revoir les enfants

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"Au revoir les enfants! À bientôt!"

Au Revoir les Enfants (Goodbye Children) is a 1987 semi-autobiographical film by Louis Malle. Set in a small Carmelite boarding school in occupied France in the winter of 1943, it tells the story of the friendship between two young boys, one Catholic and one Jewish.

We meet Julien Quentin as he's reluctantly boarding the train from Paris to go back to school after the winter holidays. As everyone settles into the dorm Father Jean, the headmaster, introduces Jean Bonnet, a new student who gets the bed next to Julien's. As life in the Catholic boarding school settles into a routine punctuated by air raids, visits from the militia and black-market shenanigans, Julien starts noticing strange things about his new classmate. He starts snooping and eventually discovers Jean Bonnet is really Jean Kippelstein, and is Jewish. The two boys grow closer as Julien tries to learn more about Jean's life, and starts asking questions about what it is that's so terrible about Jews anyway.

The film is a fictionalized account of real events; Jean Bonnet, Father Jean and the other Jewish boys are all people Louis Malle met in school as a boy, with different names but the same stories. However he never did build a friendship with the boy Jean Bonnet is based on the way Julien did with Jean, and he's said in interviews that he always regretted this fact, which is why he made this film.

Most of the film is a fairly light Boarding School Slice of Life story, with commentary about life in France under the Occupation and The Holocaust thrown in. It got lots of awards and is quite popular in History classes in France and French classes abroad.

Au Revoir les Enfants provides examples of :

  • Adaptational Wimp: In real life all of the older students were made secret keepers for their Jewish classmates and maintained that trust, but in the film, they appear ignorant about what's going on.
  • Adapted Out: Father Jean's real-life counterpart also harbored a fourth boy employed as a worker and the father of one of the students (neither of whom appears). The two weren't arrested with the others, but records don't mention if they survived the war.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: All the Germans shown are soldiers and thus Nazis for all intents and purposes, but averted in that while they're clearly the enemy they aren't portrayed as absolute evil. One officer kicks out militiamen who were harassing an old Jewish man in a restaurant (for all the good that did him), and another rescues Julien and Jean when they're lost freezing in the forest after curfew and brings them back to the school.
    Student: What happened?
    Other student: They got arrested by the Boches!
    German soldier: Can the 'Boches' get their blanket back?
  • Ambiguous Situation: It is unclear if Moreau is a gentile Resistance fighter aiding Father Jean or an adult Jew (as there was a Jew employed as a teacher at the school in real life, although he was captured while Moreau escapes in the movie).
  • Black Market: An important part of the boys' life, until Joseph gets caught and fired over it.
  • Boarding School: The setting.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: Julien tries to do this as Jean hasn't seen his father in two years and Julien's father works in Lille so he hardly ever sees him either.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Dr. Müller probably has an actual card to prove it, too.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Joseph rats out Père Jean and the kids he's hiding to the Nazis after he was fired.
  • Les Collaborateurs: A lot of them, but Joseph is the biggest example. And that f*cking nun.
  • Cool Big Bro: Julien's brother is usually patient and cordial toward him and shares some of his contraband with him.
  • Doting Parent: Julien's mother.
  • Downer Ending: The priest and all three of the Jewish children are arrested, and Julien's closing narration confirms that all four died in Nazi concentration camps.
  • Draft Dodging: Joseph points out how Moreau, the exercise instructor and dorm monitor, is making himself scarce when the authorities show up looking for draft dodgers, although it's later suggested that he may be a Resistance fighter or a Jewish refugee in addition to or instead of being a draft dodger.
  • Duet Bonding: Jean and Julien on the piano.
  • Evil Cripple: Joseph, the Black Market-running kitchen worker, has a lame leg. He's the one who rats out Father Jean and the three Jewish children in the end. His physical disability makes the betrayal more ironic, considering he himself would have likely been murdered had he been German.
  • Flat Character: Dupre, who gets almost no screen time or characteristics, unlike his fellow Jewish students, and isn't even seen being captured onscreen.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At the beginning of the film Julien's mother says she'd like to disguise herself as a boy and go to school with him and it would be their secret. Yeah, none of those concepts will be echoed in the story at any point.
    • Jean declines another boy's offer of the last piece of pork during an early cafeteria scene. He's a disguised Jewish refugee.
  • Friend in the Black Market: What would we do without you, Joseph?
  • Greedy Jew: Invoked by Joseph when Julien drives a hard bargain for his stamps.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Jean. He did his best to save three Jewish children.
  • Hope Spot: As the boys are packing their things and getting ready to leave, a rumor goes around that a groundskeeper and one of the Jewish boys got away. Then Julien discovers they were only hiding in the attic, and the Jewish boy is caught anyway. Moreau the groundskeeper does manage to get away.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Father Jean fires Joseph although he himself says it's an injustice. It doesn't take long for the consequences of that decision to come and bite him in the ass...
  • Momma's Boy: Julien. When he isn't saying he hates her for sending him to boarding school...
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. There is the main character, Jean Bonnet, and the priest in charge, Père Jean.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot
    François: Women, my boy, they're all whores. (bumps into someone right behind him) Oh, sorry Sister...
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Julien, in the treasure hunt.
    Julien : I've got the treasure! We've won! The Greens have won! (flapping sound of birds taking flight, creaking sound of branches. Pan to the completely empty forest. Oh, and it's winter and night will probably fall soon.)
  • La Résistance: Mentioned surprisingly rarely but Father Jean is implied to be a member. The groundskeeper almost certainly was.
  • Suspiciously Specific Sermon: Wow, who knew that priest would be the type to hide Jewish refugees?
  • Title Drop: As Father Jean is being taken away the students say "Au revoir, Père!" He turns to them and says "Au revoir les enfants! À bientôt!" ("Goodbye, children! See you soon!") It's quite sad.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The cook, Mme. Perrin, probably didn't realize that making a scene and getting Joseph fired for stealing lard would cause him to spitefully summon the authorities and get her employer and three Jewish students sent to concentration camps.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Julien and Joseph, his former black market friend, at the end. Joseph tells a Gestapo soldier not to bother Julien and offers him a cigarette, but Julien only stares in horror as he realizes that Joseph sold out Pere Jean and the Jewish students, and Joseph quickly gets defensive and accuses Julien of being Holier Than Thou.