Friday, May 6, 2011

Au revoir les enfants: One gesture can be fatal

Au revoir les enfants (drama, war)
Directed by Louis Malle
Starring Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö and Francine Racette

Criterion | 1987 | 104 min | Rated PG | Released Mar 15, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

French: LPCM Mono


Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film 4.5/5

Au revoir les enfants is a semi-autobiographical story from director Louis Malle who was born in 1932 and lived through many of the events depicted on the screen. Because it’s based on the truth, it has added meaning for the viewer. It’s about school, friendship, racism and regret.

The story begins with a 15-year-old boy, Julien Quentin (Manesse), leaving his mother and taking the train to a Catholic boarding school. The school is run by monks and all of the students are boys. It’s set in the 1940s during the German occupation of France. A new boy, Jean Bonnet (Fejtö), takes the bed next to Quentin.

Most of the students tease Bonnet and make his life a misery. As you have probably experienced, this is typical treatment for a new student in any school. In addition to the teasing, he finds that the water is cold, baths have to be taken in the local town, and air raids disrupt the lessons. Bonnet's life becomes more tolerable when a monk tells Quentin to befriend him without explaining why. After a while, Bonnet’s ability in a wide range of school subjects such as music, math and French, earns Quentin’s respect. The two become friends.

The portrayal of school life is realistic and reminds me somewhat of The 400 Blows. It gradually becomes clear that Bonnet has a secret. He claims to be a protestant and mentions that his father is a prisoner. Quentin searches Bonnet’s locker and uncovers the secret, but he’s not completely aware of its significance at the time. 

When his mother visits, Quentin persuades her to include Bonnet on a trip to a local restaurant. She likes him although he doesn’t say much. While they are eating, we are shown a group of collaborators harassing a Jewish man who simply wants to have dinner. Jews are not allowed in the restaurant. Quentin is puzzled by this treatment and isn’t even sure what a Jew is and why they should be hated.

Quentin matures throughout the film and his awareness of events happening in his life increases. It’s a coming-of-age tale of sorts, and the seemingly innocent existence of the students is overshadowed by something more sinister.

This sad tale will emotionally affect viewers who allow themselves to be drawn into the story. I can only imagine what Malle must have gone through in order to make it. Perhaps it was his way of confessing?

I don’t want to reveal anything more as it might ruin the experience for anyone yet to see it.

Actress Irène Jacob made her film debut in the role of a piano teacher which ultimately led to her being noticed by director Krzysztof Kieslowski. As a result, he cast her in The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors Red. Both films are essential viewing for film fans who enjoy stories encouraging thought and speculation.

Video Quality 4/5
Criterion’s transfer is strong and has plenty of detail without ruining the intended look of the film. Instances of dirt, debris and scratches are kept to a minimum. The colors are particularly impressive despite the muted setting. 

Audio Quality 4.5/5
This is a quiet film for the most part and the French LPCM 1.0 presentation is clear throughout. The subtitles for the French dialogue are properly paced and easy to follow, while any German spoken in the film is not supposed to be understood and is not subtitled.

Special Features 4/5

Pierre Billard – Film critic and author of Malle’s biography talks about Malle’s career (31 minutes, 1080i)

Candice Bergen – Malle’s wife for 15 years talks about his life and passion for film (14 minutes, 1080i)

Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant – Talks about the reason for its appearance in the film (26 minutes, 1080i)

Louis Malle at AFI – Audio only speech (in English) from Malle’s 1988 appearance at the AFI (53 minutes)

Trailers (3 minutes, 1080i)

22-page booklet

One of the best films of the 80s gets the Criterion Blu-ray treatment and the results are stunning. Buy it if you like emotional dramas.


  1. I just spent a ton of money on the B&N Criterion sale, but now I really want to pick this up before it's over. It's such a wonderful film!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's a very touching film.

    It's tough to recommend Criterion titles because they are so varied, but that's one of my favorites.

    My Top 12 would include:

    The 400 Blows
    Au revoir les enfants
    Blow Out
    Chungking Express
    The Double Life of Veronique (my clear favorite)
    El Norte
    Mystery Train
    Paris, Texas
    Wings of Desire

    I'm also anxiously awaiting The Killing on August 16 and the Three Colors Trilogy when that's eventually released.

  3. Wow! I love this film, I also love The 400 blows! They are both in my Top Ten!
    Really this is one of the best films I've seen! When I first saw it It was a random chose between au revoir and I can't remember what other film, I wasn't expecting liking it that much. Thanks for the review for mi it is a 5/5, though im not a film expert or anything n.n

    1. I am far from being a film expert either, but, like you, I think it's a wonderful film. Imagine having lived through that.