Righteous among the nations: Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)
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On the morning of January 15, 1944, Nazis raided a boarding school for boys in Avon, France. The Carmelite monks who ran the school had been hiding some Jewish boys there under false names. As a number of the children and teachers watched, three of their classmates were led away by the Nazis, along with the headmaster, Pere Jacques, who turned back to say only, “Au revoir, les enfants” (“Goodbye, children”). The three boys died in Auschwitz, and the priest went to Mauthausen, dying only a few weeks after the camp was liberated by US forces.
Among the children standing by on that unforgettable day was the future French film director Louis Malle. Decades later in 1987, he would memorialize the experience, the boys and the priest (whose cause for canonization was opened in 1990). The film is included on the Vatican’s 1995 list of important movies under the category of Values.
But Au Revoir les Enfants is about much more than the Holocaust. The bulk of the film is a kind of slice-of-life experience of a French Catholic boarding school. The children in the story don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, and Malle proves deft at developing the plot in an unemphatic and invisible manner until the end. It is a coming-of-age story, a Holocaust story, and the story of a heroic priest-martyr all in one.
Note: In this episode, we mistakenly referred to the main character as “Lucien”. His name, in fact, is Julien.
Article about Pere Jacques: https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/1781-au-revoir-les-enfants-p-re-jacques-and-the-petit-coll-ge-d-avon
Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission. https://theduskwhales.bandcamp.com/
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