Friday, August 31, 2007

Lacombe, Lucien (1974)

(Directed by Louis Malle, 1974, France)

Lacombe, Lucien is a powerful study of life under the Vichy Occupation of France, during the waning years of the Second World War. Lucien (Pierre Blaise) is a country hick who tries to get involved with the Resistance and, failing that, goes to work with the local collaborators. Being a young, naive farmboy hick, he does not realize the implications of his actions: the first being that he informs on his old teacher, the one who advised him not to join the Resistance.

The Nazi collaboraters are holed up in decadent surroundings in a provincial hotel, wherein (in on of the early scenes) the wife of a police head is reading the daily mail, consisting of notes from informers spying on their neighbors: to make things ever more surreal, there is a letter from a man informing on himself. Lucien becomes a mascot to them and, with the connection of the son of a French nobleman, meets the family of Albert Horn, a Jewish tailor in hiding. He falls in love with Horn's daughter France and there the complications ensue. Lucien is a blank slate, someone so young and stupidly naive, that he has no conscience or judgement on his actions, he just tries to fit in, allowing himself to be used for an ideology that he doesn't bother to comprehend. Completely apolitical, he doesn't bother to register that his actions are noticed by the Resistance movement that rejected him at the beginning of the film. In the course of the film, his actions are devastating to those around him.

This was Malle's first film about the French Occupation, the other being Au Revoir les Enfants. . While the latter film is rather tender (being based on a sad childhood memory of the director), this film is rather tough, rather ominous and open to interpretation. The Criterion release is rather fantastic, cleaned up but without any extras. Thirty years plus later, this is still an important French film, skillfully done and engrossing to watch.

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