Society season ends with French classic

School boarders in France, 1944. SUS-150420-153350001
School boarders in France, 1944. SUS-150420-153350001

For the last film in their Spring mini-season at the Curzon the Eastbourne Film Society has chosen Au Revoir Les Enfants - one of the great classics of French cinema. It is showing on Wednesday, April 29, with seats available for the public.

The film was made by Louis Malle in 1987 and was immediately recognised as an outstanding work. With the passing of time its standing has in no way diminished and may even be said to have increased.

The setting is a Catholic boarding school in France in 1944. Presented with a sharp, observant eye, Au Revoir Les Enfants is initially a study of childhood and one that never sentimentalises.

Although true to the time and place, it is also a wonderfully authentic portrait that is universally recognisable. However, the story that develops, one written by Malle himself and with a strong autobiographical element, is particular to the time of the German occupation.

We come to realise the school head, Father Jean, has recently given shelter to three Jews despite the grave risk attached. One of these is Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö) and another pupil, Julien (Gaspard Manesse), is asked to befriend this newcomer.

But Julien has insecurities of his own and, only belatedly realising Bonnet is Jewish and therefore in danger, he finds he is playing a role which he will look back on in adulthood with both sadness and regret.

In telling Julien’s tale Malle is in essence revealing his own story, and to do that must have taken courage.

Malle shows a warmth and compassion for everybody in this film: the children are the central figures, but if there is a hero it is Father Jean who, reflecting on the situation in France, declares that he prays for both the victims and executioners.