Au revoir les enfants (1987)




Director:  Louis Malle. 

Starring:  Gaspard Manesse (Julien Quentin), Raphael Fejt (Jean Bonnet/Jean Kippeinstein), Francine Racette (Mme Quentin Julien's mother), Stanislas Carr de Malberg (Franois Quentin), Philippe Morier-Genoud (PPre Jean), Franois Berland (PPre Michel), Franois Ngret (Joseph), Peter Fitz (Muller), Pascal Rivet (Boulanger), Benot Henriet (Ciron), Richard Leboeuf (Sagard), Xavier Legrand (Babinot), Arnaud Henriet (Negus), Jean-Sbastien Chauvin (Michel Laviron), Luc Etienne (Moreau).

a Catholic school in France hides three Jewish boys from the Gestapo


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Good movie.  Julien Quentin and his brother Franois say good-bye to their mother and get on the train to take them back to their school, St. John of The Cross, Carmelite Convent.  Quentin does not want to go because he does not like the school.  Another reason not to like school is the presence of German soldiers and the Gestapo in the area.

Back at school, a new student, Jean Bonnet, of three new ones is introduced into Quentin's class.  An air raid siren sounds and everyone has to go down into the shelters. Quentin unnecessarily tells Jean not to mess with him or he will be sorry.  

During play at recess, a group of boys decides to capture Julien and Jean.  The two boys run off.  Julien runs so far away that he gets himself lost.  Wandering around he runs into Jean, who had been captured, tied up and left.  The two boys reach a road and flag down a vehicle that turns out to be full of German soldiers.  Jean is frightened and runs away, followed immediately by Julien, but both boys are captured.  The German soldiers give the boys a break and drop them off at the convent school. 

One day Julien is alone in the dorm and is snooping around in the personal effects of other students.  He finds some of Jean's books and discovers that his real name is Jean Kippeinstein.  There is a small confrontation between the two boys that doesn't amount to too much. Julien invites Jean to dinner with Julien's brother and mother.  While they are eating, the French militia comes in and asks the diners for their papers.  They find a Jewish man eating along and tell him to get out of the restaurant.  This creates a stir in the restaurant.  Franois shouts"collaborators" at the militia.  This draws the ire of the militia and they start to harass the young man amid a growing call for the militia to get out of the restaurant.  Four German officers are sitting at one of the tables.  One of them becomes so irritated by all the ruckus that he orders the militia out of the restaurant.  The militia don't like it, but they leave.

The kitchen staff are accused of black market activity, along with some of the students, including Julien's trading of the jam he gets from home.  (The principal of the school has the philosophy that if boys get extra food from home they must unselfishly share it with the less fortunate students.)   Kitchen staffer Joseph gets fired and  is very upset at the school and the students who were also involved but who were not really punished.   

Julien and Jean start to be good friends.  When an air raid siren goes off and everyone in the school heads for the air raid shelters, the two boys stay behind.  They play a piano duet together, wander around the campus and look for food in the kitchen. 

Suddenly German soldiers make an appearance on campus in the company of an official of the Gestapo.  In Julien's class, the Gestapo want to know which student is Jean Kippeinstein.  No one answers, but when one of the students turns to look at Jean, the Gestapo figure that Jean Bonnet is the student they want.  Jean has to go with a German soldier. 

The Gestapo official tells the rest of the class: "Your principal committed a serious crime by hiding him."  He then tells the students that the school is closed and they have two hours to pack and line up in the yard.  They have already arrested the principal, Father Jean. (The Gestapo discovered that Father Jean had resistance leaflets in his possession.)   "It seems we have been denounced." 

Julien soon learns who was the informer.  It was Joseph, trying to get revenge against the principal and the school.  When Joseph sees that Julien is disgusted with him, he tells Julien "Don't worry about it.  They're just Jews."

One of the Jewish students hides from the Gestapo by pretending to be one of the sick students in the infirmary.  A sister, however, rat finks on the student and he is hauled away.  Julien in turn rats on the sister, who is shocked that he had heard her conversation with the Gestapo. 

Father Jean and the three Jewish students are taken away.  The three students died at Auschwitz.  Father Jean died in the camp at Mauthausen.  In October 1944 the school reopened.  The narrator says:  "More than 40 years have passed, but I'll remember every second of that January morning until the day I die."


The movie gives some sense of the fear the Jewish students confronted everyday of their lives in occupied France.  At any moment, they might find the Gestapo at their doorstep to be taken to a concentration camp.  Father Jean may have been a tolerant, upright man, but the students themselves were actually anti-Semitic.  They constantly made nasty remarks about Jewish people.  In fact, many of the students were just down right mean.  They engaged in a lot of bullying that was not really condemned by the school staff.  (And Julien himself certainly was no angel.)  Father Jean should have had more talks about the importance of tolerance and the need to stop the bullying in the school.  I commend the honesty of the film:  no one was an angel in the movie. They all had their problems and conflicts. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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