Goodbye, Children (Au Revoir Les Enfants)

1987

Goodbye, Children (Au Revoir Les Enfants) (1987)

TOMATOMETER

Critic Consensus: Louis Malle's autobiographical tale of a childhood spent in a WWII boarding school is a beautifully realized portrait of friendship and youth.

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Movie Info

During the Nazi occupation of France, a young Catholic boarding-school student witnesses the courage of his teachers as they defy the anti-Semitic policies of the German forces, and quietly enroll Jewish children in their school using assumed names.

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Critic Reviews for Goodbye, Children (Au Revoir Les Enfants)

All Critics (31) | Top Critics (7)

An ever-shifting balance of power is the film's greatest strength.

Jan 26, 2015 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

In this frightening and beautiful film, a schoolboy must learn hard lessons early.

Aug 24, 2010 | Full Review…

The film's quiet integrity finally depends on his avoidance of heroic cliché and stylistic bombast, and on the unindulgent generosity extended towards his characters.

Feb 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

It's a work that has the kind of simplicity, ease and density of detail that only a film maker in total command of his craft can bring off, and then only rarely.

May 20, 2003 | Rating: 5/5

A schoolboy cannot be expected to understand how swiftly violence and evil can strike out and change everything.

Jan 1, 2000 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

In this season of boyhood remembrances, Malle's is the most devastating -- an inspired elegy to little boys lost.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Goodbye, Children (Au Revoir Les Enfants)

Its so simple yet so beautiful. The actors are convincing and bring the melancholy mood to a new level for late 80's cinema. A great french film that deserves more attention!

paul oh
paul oh

Super Reviewer

Inspired by real events, a boarding school in World War II, France sets the stage where friendship is realized and youth is corrupted in Goodbye, Children. Moving and unforgettable.

Jan Marc Macababayao
Jan Marc Macababayao

Super Reviewer

½

Oh you French sure know how to drag out a movie..yeesh! This was VERY slow paced, and uneventful, right up until the last 10 min. THEN it finally had some memorable moments. This was well made, and had some wonderful young actors, however. I just wish it had a little more substance.

Cynthia S.
Cynthia S.

Super Reviewer

½

If you watch Au Revoir Les Enfants knowing that it is autobiographical, the experience is almost cathartic.

The Holocaust has been explored, done and re-done in cinema and television for many years. A film about it that goes a little further than distressing and infuriating is a rare find. Louis Malle, one of the better known and most respected French filmmakers, made just that. In one film, he was able to portray the incertitude of adolescence, the incertitude of war, and the incertitude of solidarity. The characters of this film are boys who attend a Catholic boarding school in the French countryside during the German occupation. Rather than only dealing with the physical and psychological changes of their stage, they must also confront the alien situation of being under the surveillance of foreign soldiers, and at this very young age must begin to form principles and opinions. We discover their innocence in their confusion: Why are Jews bad? Why are Frenchmen cooperating with the Germans? Why do we have to stop being what we are?

Julien is a high-middle-class boy. He's one of the most popular boys of his class, and one of the best students. As he settles in for the beginning of school year, a new boy arrives at the dormitory: Jean. Immediately, he becomes the target of teasing, punching, and bad jokes. However, he enjoys reading, and pulls out a Sherlock Holmes novel from his suitcase; Julien takes instant interest in him, but keeps his distance from the new boy. Later, they antagonize in class, because Jean proves to as brilliant as Julien.

With time, Jean's background and character become more and more of a mystery. One night, Julien wakes up and sees him wearing a kippah and praying in Hebrew. This knowledge interests but mortifies the boy, for he knows that Jews are being persecuted. Jean doesn't know he's been discovered, and continues claiming to be a Protestant. He and Julien become better acquainted now, discussing books, playing the piano, and even getting lost in the forest for a night -and being rescued by Nazis-. Without really meaning to, Jean and Julien simply become friends. Solidarity springs up in a natural way, it can't be helped. I loved to see that unfold.

The Nazis later on find out that there are Jewish boys hiding in the school under false identities. They take away the students and the Principal. Julien's incredulous gaze follows them through the gate.

Louis Malle was haunted by the memory of his Jewish friend throughout his life until, in 1987, he decided to pay homage to him and to his headmaster. It is obvious that every scene was written and filmed with great care, love, and compromise. Malle understands the importance of what he is saying but he doesn't want to be Baroque or effectist in his storytelling; on the contrary, he knows that what can touch us most deeply is what we comprehend through subtleties and suggestions. His approach is very clear, but not raw.

Ultimately, Au Revoir Les Enfants addresses the senselessness of the Holocaust and of cruelty and discrimination in general. How did Jean become less, how did Jean become less human once he wrote a Jewish last name on the dotte line? Children won't understand it even if someone tried to explain it. So why should anyone else? The film speaks about bewilderment, regret, confusion, but also friendship and loyalty. And what I found most remarkable: The way Malle showed how Julien, by befriending Jean, began to feel solidarity towards him, without thinking about it. It's instinctive, it surfaces naturally. It just seems obvious. Every person has the potential to be loved and cared for because he/she is human. It is only necessary to take an interest.

Malle surely utilised this film to exorcize his guilt, or at least his sadness. The emotion invested in it is tangible. Everyone must see this film.

Elvira B
Elvira B

Super Reviewer

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