Quick recap: Two boys from completely different backgrounds form a strong bond during World War II.
Fun (?) fact: When Quentin Tarantino worked at a video rental place he couldn’t pronounce the name of this movie and so called it ‘that reservoir film’.
Thoughts and observations:
Knowing only that this was a French film about a boys boarding school, I already had some expectations of what I might encounter:
- underage smoking
- light to moderate horseplay
- bedtime shenanigans
- homoerotic implications
And this movie had all of that but also it was an emotional gut punch. I don’t use that term often but there’s just no other way to describe what I watched. As a matter of fact, after the credits were finished and I had mostly stopped sobbing, I grabbed my 10 year old and made him watch it with me again because it is just so important.
What makes this movie so unique is that the audience gets lulled into a false sense of security. On the surface, this is a story about a boy who is an outsider (Julien) who forms a strong bond with the new kid (Jean). It’s been done before, of course, but what’s different is that Jean is not just a new kid- he’s Jewish and being hidden away in this Catholic school during the height of World War II. Aside from a few clues- he doesn’t pray with the others, he doesn’t eat pork and his real last name is Klippenstein- the matter isn’t discussed in detail. For the most part, these boys are all surviving the war in their own way and how they treat Jean is similar to how they might treat any newcomer who happens to be very bright and introverted. It really made me think everything would be ok and the plan to hide the boys would work.
But of course, it doesn’t. The Gestapo raids the school and because of an unintentional glance towards his friend, Jean is outed by Julien as Jewish. The last scene of the boys standing in the cold and saying goodbye to their principal as he and the Jewish boys are taken away is one that will live with me for a long time. According to the director, who says this film is mostly autobiographical, all 4 were sent to a concentration camp and later murdered.
Watchability score: 5/5. Essential viewing. We also watched Jojo Rabbit afterwards, which turned out to be a suitable companion piece.
Up next: Sweet Sweetback’s badasssss song