Man, this film's title is so straight-forward that its French title is incredibly easy to translate: "Goodbye, You Dirty Jew". Hey, the title may as well translate as that, because this is yet another reminder of how the Jews just couldn't catch a break a break during WWII, which was so bad for Jews that even boarding schools had to give them a break. I can't help but feel as though if you were to get all of this Nazi stuff out of the picture, then the story would still figure out a way to work in anti-Semitism, because it seems like most every film about a Jew in a private school, or prep school, or boarding school, or whatever involves a bunch of students hating the Jew's guts for some reason. I don't know about y'all, but I was on the edge of my seat throughout this film, expecting for that one scene in which RaphaŽl FejtŲ's Jean Kippelstein character gets found out, slurred out, then stands outside of the school in the rain, shouting, "L‚ches!" (It's a "School Ties" joke, for those of you who are too lazy to get on Google Translate), you know, up until the Nazis picked him up. Jeez, and the only thing Brendan Fraser had to worry about was getting kicked out of his group of friends, and on top of that, his David Greene character had the fortune of being in a film that people actually saw. Yeah, this film wasn't likely to be box office gold, and not just because my having to come up with a reference to "School Ties" - which wasn't even released by 1987 - as something to look forward to reflects that this film doesn't have as much excitement as you might hope. No, people, this film isn't that slow, being genuinely decent by the end, but the fact of the matter is that this film, like non-Jewish students in a boarding school, has some obvious issues.
Indeed, it should pretty much go without saying that this story of companionship and protection during the most dangerous of days is a worthy one, but through all of the thematic weight, this premise is pretty thin, with only so much kick in dramatic structure, as emphasized by such things as the expository shortcomings that render the final product not as fleshed out as it probably should have been, and, of course, atmospheric dryness. The film is not so disengaging that it's not, on some moderate level, compelling enough to be likable, but this film slows down a lot, and taints such slow spells with a quiet meditation upon atmosphere in a fashion that is blandly disengaging, and often just plain dull. Atmospheric kick is very limited in this film, whose dullness is considerable enough for the final product to come close to plummeting out of likability that is ultimately secured, but challenged by dryness in the air that is easily this film's biggest problem, and one that emphasizes pacing issues that were on paper to begin with. This film really isn't that long, but like I said, its story is thin, and only so much material can be added into this film before things begin to get excessive, with fatty filler around the edges and somewhat irritating repetition that are ultimately more prominent than they should be in this character study that actually requires some filler in order to flesh itself out. The film takes time explore certain areas of depth within its characters, but it does so in too steady of a fashion that is anchored by fatty storytelling, made all the more disconcerting by atmospheric dull spots that settle the kick of plot structure, until it is thinned out almost into obscurity, thus resulting in a kind of aimless feel that leaves this meditative piece to meander about as much as it effectively draws depth. In terms of quantity, there's not a whole lot that's wrong with this film, but when it comes to the degree to which this film's issues slow down momentum, aimless bloating and a generally dry atmosphere do a lot of damage to this film, which was held back enough by natural limitations that could have been bypassed enough for a gripping film to be crafted, yet are ultimately emphasized by the consequential issues that make the final product an underwhelming one. Still, no matter how much the film falls short, it doesn't fully plummet out of decency, which is shaken time and again, yet ultimately stands strong on the foundation of tasteful artistry, even of a photographic nature.
A 1987 film that is stuck with an unknown, but undoubtedly airtight budget, this film is by no means all-out stunning, but it nonetheless looks surprisingly very handsome, as cinematographer Renato Berta plays with a darkly bluish color palette in a tasteful fashion that emphasizes darker colors in a gritty, but attractive fashion that even goes so far as to resemble some kind of painting at times. Again, the film won't take your breath away, yet where it could have neglected to go an extra mile in visual artistry and taken on a blandly average look that does nothing to ameliorate an atmosphere that is blanded up enough in the storytelling department, it makes an effort to look good, and such tasteful artistry reflects the filmmakers' commitment to this subject matter, which deserves nothing less than inspired interpretation. Even outside of the battlefield, Europe during World War II was anything but completely safe, especially for the Jews, every one of whom had a distinguished story to be told, and not necessarily by them, because even though all of the names and most of the events have been changed, this film is based on a true story in the childhood of writer, producer and director Louis Malle, who, as a student at a Catholic boarding school, was unknowingly in the presence of Jewish refugees, whose companionships with those of a supposedly "superior" culture reflected a humanity that even the non-Nazis forgot about, thus making for a story that, while not all that eventful, holds plenty of value and the potential of being interpreted as a compelling film, something that this effort, to a certain degree, is. No, the film is not nearly as compelling it could have been, being too aimless and dry to be all that engaging or rewarding, but if you're patient, you can expect to find heights in storytelling that is consistently just inspired enough to sustain a reasonable degree of your investment, with Malle turning in a script that, while fatty around the edges, has plenty of areas of genuine characterization, while also turning in a directorial performance that, while messy in plenty of places, plays up soul as adequately engaging, sometimes even rather resonant. Sure, the moments in which the film finally finds its resonance are very much few and far between, yet they are here as particular heights in an engagement value that is not shaken into dissipation, but instead firm enough to make a decent character piece, further carried by inspiration behind the portrayal of these characters. Seeing as how there's only so much dramatic eventfulness in this film, there's only so much dramatic material for our cast of mostly young talents to work with, but most everyone of our young leads distinguish themselves with charisma that adds to much of the charm that gets this film by, and is occasionally broken up by a human heart that helps in defining this character-driven drama. As surely as there are only so much flaws, there are only so many strengths in this film, yet like the flaws, what strengths there are county, not so much so that you get glimpses of the truly strong drama that this had the potential of being, but nevertheless to where you end up with a decent drama, with taste, charm and heart that prove to be endearing to get the final product by, regardless of squandered potential.
To bid a fond au revoir of my own, natural shortcomings in the film's generally uneventful story are emphasized by expository thinness and atmospheric dryness, whose considerable blandness exacerbates the meanderings - spawned from draggy and aimless plot structuring - the make the final product underwhelming, but not so much so that the handsome cinematography, heights in writing and direction, and endearingly charismatic and genuine performances breathe enough life into the value of a worthy story concept to make "Au revoir les enfants" an adequately engaging character piece, even though it could have been so much more.
2.5/5 - Fair