#394- Au Revoir les Enfants

Quick recap: Two boys from completely different backgrounds form a strong bond during World War II.

Au-Revoir-Les-Enfants-1

Julien and Jean

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

 

 

 

#343- The Cranes Are Flying

Quick recap: Boris and Veronica are young lovers torn apart by war in Soviet Russia.

Fun (?) fact: This was one of the first movies to come out from the USSR that didn’t involve propaganda.

The 3rd line in this movie is about the cranes flying so I appreciate not having too think too heavily of the title

My thoughts: Am I bad person for wanting this to be chockfull of propaganda? I find those films fascinating because I like to see if I actually come around to the idea.

Salt of the Earth and All Quiet on the Western Front: YES

Storm Over Asia and Sergeant York: big fat NO

Alas, this was not one of those films, but instead another depressing one about war and its consequences. War is hell, y’all.

Right off the bat, I totally bought into Boris and Veronica’s relationship. They weren’t just cute together, but their playful banter felt genuine and not too over the top gloopy. I especially loved his nickname for her: squirrel. What I didn’t love was that he volunteered to go to war and literally left the next day. And even more than that, I was crushed that the two didn’t see each other before he shipped out. Like I said, I was all the way invested in this relationship. Now, I don’t claim to know a lot about Russian history so I’m not even going to try and sum up went on the war. All I know is that it was rough and not just for the soldiers. Even with a victory, I knew that the characters faced a long road ahead of them. And boy did they ever! For starters, Veronica’s parents are killed in an air raid. And then when she moves in with Boris’ family, his cousin Mark rapes her during another air raid and the two have to get married. AND THEN BORIS DIES. This movie was on a whole other level of drama I was not prepared for. As sad as it is, apparently Russian audiences really identified with the plot at the time. This movie was the first time many of them felt like it was ok to grieve for their suffering and hardships. It really made me think about all the bullshit governments put the common people through for the ‘greater good’.

Aside from the stellar acting and plot, there were many scenes and close ups that were gorgeous. The camerawork felt modern and had it not been in black and white, I might think this movie was a recent addition. Cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky used hand held cameras for much of the movie, and is one of the first to do so. The result isn’t shaky, thank god, but instead, seems like a more intimate look into the lives of a family going through a horrible time.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Days of Heaven

 

#289- Forbidden Games

Quick recap: Two children cope with the horrors of war by creating a pet cemetery  (not the Stephen King kind).

What a lovely romp this movie was!

What a lovely romp this movie was!

Fun (?) fact: The movie was originally shot as a short but was then changed to feature length. By that time, the actress who played Paulette had lost her baby teeth so for many scenes she wears false ones.

The boy called this owl 'The Mayor' and now I want to change my cat's name

The boy called this owl ‘The Mayor’ and now I want to change my cat’s name

My thoughts: Picture it: A board room, somewhere in France. Let’s go with a board room in the Eiffel Tower because that’s about the only landmark I know. In walks René Clément, director of Forbidden Games and the writer for the screenplay, Jean Aurenche.

René: Alright, I like the plot of the film, but I feel like it should be more sad. Children growing up in World War II is depressing, but we can do better.

Jean: What if we kill off the girl’s parents?

René: It’s a start. I like where you are going with this, but let’s dig deeper.

Pierre, the custodian, who has apparently been standing in the corner of the room this whole time: Kill a puppy.

René and Jean stare at Pierre for a moment, stunned.

Pierre: And then have an old lady throw the dead puppy in the river as the little girl watches. The little girl will fish the dead puppy out of the water and  carry it around for awhile while crying.

René: Break out the champagne, Jean! We have a hit on our hands!

 

As this totally accurate scene shows, Forbidden Games is another depressing war film. It’s sweet how the boy, Michel, takes care of the little girl Paulette, but there’s just so much that is sad.And then you add in all the dead animals and I could barely watch many scenes. There’s a particularly sad exchange between the two children as Michel explains to Paulette that her parents are dead and have been buried in a mass grave. She reasons it is because they are cold and need a spot to warm up and that’s where the idea of a cemetery is born. It was heartbreaking to watch that and it doesn’t help that those two kids are just about the cutest I’ve ever seen. For now, though, let’s turn back to that board room in France as René and Jean try to write an ending to their movie.

René: I think we’ve hammered home the point that war is hell with all those death scenes. How about a happy ending to give the audience a break?

Pierre, who still hasn’t left his corner, spits on the ground in disgust.

Jean (stammering): Paulette has to leave Michel’s family and is reunited with a distant Aunt?

Pierre walks over to Jean and slaps him in the face with all his might. Jean, holding back tears, stands up.

Jean: How about Michel is about to be beaten within an inch of his life and Paulette is taken away to live in an orphanage? She waits at the train station and sees all these reunions around her. Someone yells the name, ‘Michel’, which causes her to run away from the nun, in search of the only person alive who cared for her.

Everyone in the room high fives and opens another bottle of champagne. Pierre nods ever so slightly and leaves the room, his job done.

He returns seconds later to gather the trash from the bin, remembering his real job, nods again, and walks out.

Final review: 4/5. Depressing as hell, but an interesting perspective at least

Up next: Glengarry Glen Ross

 

#288- The Night of the Shooting Stars

Quick recap: Told through the perspective of a little girl, a group of Italian villagers flee their town from Nazis. Along the way to find Americans to liberate them, they decide that they are going to fight back however they can.

Fighting the Germans. What could go wrong?

Fighting the Germans. What could go wrong?

Fun (?) fact: The scene where the Germans bombed the church filled with villagers was based on real events. After some research years later, it was discovered that it was the Americans who were behind the accidental bombing. Oops.

My thoughts: Let me tell you, there is nothing that brings in the Christmas spirit more than a war film featuring children. I’m not much of  a ‘Christmas’ person to begin with, so it didn’t have much effect on my near non-existent cheer. Not that it would anyway, because out of the bunch of films I have watched so far featuring World War II, this one can almost be described as optimistic.

Almost. Mind you, there is still a lot of death happening to a lot of people you get attached to. But most of the death comes from fighting the Nazis and Fascists, which, by the way, really sucks that Italy had to fight two evil powers during the war. Everyone had it bad back then, but from what I’ve seen, Italian war films are generally the most depressing because it’s so difficult to grasp the amount of suffering the villagers went through. Night of the Shooting Stars further drives this point home as I watched the journey of these families as they fleed their town and homes. It made me wander where all that courage came from. I have no idea the first thing I would do if war came to my town. I’d like to say that I could muster up something deep inside to fight and keep going, but I don’t know. And these villagers didn’t know either, until it happened to them. The scenes where the people ran through the wheat fields to escape the fighting were the most heartbreaking for me. Here were these old women, impeccably dressed , crawling on their hands and knees, just trying to survive. It was almost too much at times.

But as I said before, this film is not just blood and gore and sadness. I think by putting this through the eyes of a 6 year old girl, the audience can see the optimism and hope. During the final battle scene, the little girl imagines her neighbors as Roman soldiers, defending their people. In reality, these are a bunch of people with weapons that barely work and little to no experience fighting. But to the little girl, they are heroes and they save the day. The Night of the Shooting Stars is based off Italian lore that once a year in August, shooting stars streak across the sky and if you make a wish, everything will come true. It was enough to keep her going and something for me to think about when times are rough.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Forbidden Games