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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a profoundly sad movie about children in the midst of World War II. The title refers to a loss of innocence and the terrible effects of war, ignorance, and bigotry on children. Because there is no overt brutality or violence (much like The Diary of Anne Frank), this film can be a moving and instructive way to bring the historical truths about Nazism and World War II to kids mature enough to understand its lessons. There is a significant amount of swearing, all from the mouths of private school boys, including: "bastard," "s--t," "turd," "whores," "sonofabitch," and more. Some tense scenes show French collaborators and members of the Gestapo searching for Jewish boys. The movie's final crawl reveals the tragic ending that befalls some of the film's beloved characters.
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What's the story?
In an idyllic setting in the French countryside in 1944, a Catholic boys' school attempts to carry on its academic and cultural traditions in spite of the Nazi occupiers and French collaborators in close proximity. The headmaster, aided and abetted by a number of other priests, courageously hides three Jewish boys and carefully integrates them as Christians into the school population. After a series of missteps and misunderstandings, a significant friendship develops between Lucien, a bright, spirited Catholic boy, and Jean, one of the Jewish boys who is quiet, insightful, and always in fear of discovery. As the war nears its end and the Nazis heighten their efforts to identify and imprison any Jews left in the area, the threat to Jean and the others intensifies.
Is it any good?
The simplicity of the story and the heartfelt, sensitive performances of its two young leads, Gaspard Manesse and Raphael Fejto, make AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS an unforgettably moving experience. Louis Malle, remembering his own school years during World War II, succeeds in painting a remarkable picture of innocence betrayed, bigotry unchecked, and the importance of individual acts of courage.
Well worthy of the multiple international awards it received, the film is highly recommended, especially as a means of introducing young people to the very personal nature and effect of war and collective intolerance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many ways filmmakers explore the realities of war. Why do you think that Louis Malle set this story in a school and made the most important characters young children?
There is very little action or violence in this movie. Still, it is suspenseful and intense. When and why is psychological suspense more effective than on-screen deaths, chase scenes, or battles?
Lucien is meant to be the character we most identify with over the course of the film. Did you find yourself making the journey from innocence to awareness and maturity with Lucien? Do you think that experiencing the journey makes movies especially memorable?
- In theaters: August 29, 1987
- On DVD or streaming: March 25, 2006
- Cast: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto
- Director: Louis Malle
- Studio: Novelle Editions de Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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