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Reasons to study this film
It is difficult to think of a film more closely linked to the psyche of its director. Louis Malle experienced the events portrayed at the end of his film at the age of 10 and thought about them daily. He waited for the appropriate moment to make the film and it never came but he made it anyway. He was advised not to make a film on the German occupation in WW2 as supposedly this was not a topic which would "sell". He made it and proved the contrary.
The interest of the film
The film explores the lives of young students at a Catholic boarding school in a small town through the eyes of Julien Quentin who loosely represents the director as a child. The secret arrival of a group of boys arouses Julien's curiosity particularly the identity of Jean Bonnet who becomes a thorn in his flesh as he threatens his place at the top of the pecking order.
The film is a succession of revelations as to the identity of Jean Bonnet as scenes representing his Jewishness pile up. Using a range of motifs the director manoeuvres the two boys towards an eventual friendship using for example literature as a means of communication: Who is your favourite musketeer? is a typical opening line in one of their conversations.
When their friendship finally blossoms after the very evocative visit to a restaurant where the gamut of French opinion on the German occupation is represented the boys relive the first (long) part of the film but in tandem this time before the inevitable outcome.
Malle is well known for his refusal to side with one side in historical situations and the ambiguity of his presentation of the Germans and the responsibility for the final tragedy provides plenty of room for interesting discussion and material for essays.