by Brad Nelson
Anti-Semitism is a cheerful, almost patriotic thing these days. We look back at the days of Hitler and chuckle that anyone could have been so stupid or beastly as to get involved in something like that.
And then many turn around and buy unwittingly into the anti-Semitism of Arab or terrorist states at they fill boats full of thugs and call it a “peace flotilla” or shoot rockets into civilian neighborhoods while portraying themselves as victims. And all the world (or a very large part of it) wrings its hands at those troublesome Jews and buys into the same notions today that they did in the 30’s and 40’s. Those ugly, bad Jews.
The result of irrational anti-Semitism (Is there a rational kind?) during the last century was many places such as that portrayed in Au Revoir Les Enfants. Somewhere in Vichy France in 1944, a Catholic monastery bravely presses on in occupied France as it serves as a boarding school for some of the children of the wealthier French parents. But the priests are playing a double and dangerous game. They are sheltering as best they can a few Jewish children.
There’s no way at least for me to watch a film like this from yesteryear and not be reminded of the way our president and other countries are soft-peddling Iran…a country that says they will exterminate the Jews if they can. There’s no way to soft-peddle the church our president spent almost twenty years in, the church of the anti-Semitic Pastor Wright. The past always seems so distant, but it isn’t really. We’re making some of the same mistakes today that they made back then.
It’s interesting in this film that the Germans are relatively nice blokes and it is the French collaborators who are the real villains. Of course, back then there was more than enough room for all kinds of villains. As another reviewer noted, “… casting French people as the heavies also suggests the central evil of prejudice and oppression is not something exclusive to one nationality, and it broadens the scope of the movie.” Ditto.
And rather than this being a wrenching sort of move such as Schindler’s List, as another reviewer says, “Malle does not rely on overly dramatic sequences . . . as a way to build up the plot. Instead he shows us the monotonous daily routines of life at the school: prayers, mass, classes, music and exercise classes, and even air-raids.”
This makes the movie chilling in a different way because the heavy drama and just bizarrely despicable violence of a typical movie of this genre necessarily has you putting up walls. The anti-Semitism becomes somewhat surreal. It’s just a movie. But in Au Revoir Les Enfants, one is not able to tokenize the characters. This is very up close and personal.
I give this 3.5 hidden candles out of 5. This is a movie worth watching. We need to remember what the coming of a holocaust looks like. • (1065 views)