Au revoir, les enfants [in French] (1987)
by Louis Malle
Videos in this documentary
The docudrama "Au revoir, les enfants" (French for "Goodbye, Children") is a 1987 film written, produced and directed by Louis Malle. The screenplay was published by Gallimard in the same year.
The film is based on events in the childhood of the director, Louis Malle, who at age 11 was attending a Roman Catholic boarding school near Fontainebleau. One day, he witnessed a Gestapo raid in which three Jewish students and a Jewish teacher were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz. All four were gassed on arrival. The school's headmaster, Lucien Bunel - Père Jacques de Jesus, was arrested for harboring them and sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. He died shortly after the camp was liberated by the American Army, having refused to leave until the last French prisoner was repatriated. Forty years later, Yad Vashem granted the title Righteous Among the Nations to Pere Jacques. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
During the winter of 1943, Julien Quentin, a pampered mother's boy, leaves his home in Paris at the end of Christmas break. Saddened to be returning to the tediousness of boarding school, Julien's classes seem uneventful until Père Jean, the headmaster, introduces three new pupils. One of them, Jean Bonnet, is the same age as Julien. Julien at first despises Bonnet, a standoffish intellectual who is being picked on by the rest of the class.
After a game of capture the flag, however, they bond and a very close friendship develops between them. One night Julien wakes up and discovers that Bonnet is wearing a kippah and is praying in the Hebrew language. After ransacking his new friend's locker, Julien learns the truth. His new friend's name is not Bonnet, but Jean Kippelstein. Père Jean, a dignified, sacrificing priest of the old school, has agreed to grant a secret asylum to hunted Jews.
When Julien's mother visits, he arranges for Bonnet to accompany them to lunch at a gourmet restaurant. As they sit around the table, the talk turns to Julien's father, a factory owner. When Julien's brother asks if he is still for Marshall Pétain, Madame Quentin responds, "No one is anymore." However, the Milice arrives and attempts to expel a Jewish diner. When Julien's brother calls them, "Collabos," the Milice commander is enraged and tells Madam Quentin, "We serve France, madam. He insulted us." However, when a Wehrmacht officer coldly orders them to leave, the Milice officers grudgingly obey. Julien's mother comments that the Jewish diner appears to be a very distinguished gentleman. She insists that she has nothing against Jews, but would not object if the socialist politician Léon Blum were hanged.
Shortly thereafter, Joseph, the school's assistant cook, is exposed for selling the school's food supplies on the black market. He implicates several students as accomplices, including Julien and his brother, François. Although Père Jean is deeply distressed by the injustice, he fires Joseph but does not expel the students for the sake of their parents.
On a cold morning in January 1944, the Gestapo raids the school. As his classroom is being searched, Julien unintentionally gives away Bonnet by looking in his direction. As the other two Jewish boys are hunted down, Julien encounters the person who denounced them, Joseph the kitchen hand. Feeling only scorn for Julien's moral outrage, Joseph tells him, "Stop being so pious. There's a war on, kid."
As the students are lined up in the school courtyard, a Gestapo officer denounces the illegal nature of Père Jean's actions. Meanwhile, Père Jean and the three Jewish children are led away by the officers. The children call out, "Au revoir, mon père!" Père Jean responds, "Au revoir, les enfants! À bientôt!"
In a voiceover epilogue, an older Julien reveals that the passage of forty years still has not dimmed his memory of that horrible day. The children, he states, were all murdered at Auschwitz. Père Jean was imprisoned with other anti-Nazi priests at Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, where he died shortly after the Americans took over the camp.