Cast & Crew
A boy is rejected for the French resistance and joins the Gestapo instead.
Tonino Delli Colli
Best Foreign Language Film
The story of a teenage peasant (Pierre Blaise) who joins up with the Gestapo after being rejected as too young by the French Resistance, Lacombe, Lucien documents one person's journey to the dark side, and it's a disturbing sight. At the time, many French critics despised the film for its apparent attack on the moral purity of the Resistance. But remember, the Nazi occupation of Paris was a reality only 30 years earlier. Malle was seen as an elitist who somehow had it in for the heroism of his own countrymen. That's not a comfortable position for any filmmaker to find himself in, but Malle seemed to take it in stride. In fact, it was his intention to keep audiences from deciphering the confused psychology of his lead character. It seems likely that Malle would have considered the movie a failure if a few people didn't get angry.
In a series of interviews with Philip French (released in book form as Malle on Malle), Malle talks at great length about the making of Lacombe, Lucien. Initially, he thought he would make a picture about Vietnam. The massacre at My Lai was in the newspapers at the time, and this drove his interest. Finally, though, he felt an American filmmaker should tackle the subject. Then he turned his thoughts to a traumatic event from his own childhood that would eventually be the basis of his later film, Au revoir les enfants (1987). But he didn't feel emotionally prepared for such a challenge, and eventually landed on the idea of a young Frenchman who winds up collaborating with the Nazis. And he knew he was asking for trouble.
"The moment I invented characters and situations even if they came directly from my research," Malle tells French, "I was exposing myself to controversy. I knew this was a minefield, so I was very cautious; for months I conducted research, interviewing ex- collaborators and members of the Resistance, seeing historians who were specialists in the period." Malle goes on to explain how hearing a melancholy Beethoven sonata played on a distant piano while he walked down a lonely street in the town of Figeac, helped coalesce his rough ideas about the film.
Later, during the research period, Malle would discover that a man very much like the character he was creating actually existed. One of the interview subjects mistakenly thought that Malle was talking about the man while he was describing the fictional Lucien! In a potently bizarre twist, Malle also found out that this real-life Lucien lived in Malle's family's abandoned home during the war! "I thought it was a sign of fate," Malle said. "It happened just a couple of months before I started shooting.""
That kind of inspiration and focus shines through in Lacombe, Lucien. But Malle would be the first to admit that much of the picture's ultimate impact was due to its star, a rather nonchalant amateur named Pierre Blaise. Malle knew that the character had to be played by a man from the area where the story takes place, and he had to have an accurate accent. So Malle started fishing for a performer during a series of casting calls that didn't go well. That is, until Blaise walked in.
Malle tells French that, as he was walking out of the casting building, he ran into Blaise. The boy, who had a tough peasant accent, explained that he was there for an audition, but had arrived late. "Immediately, I saw something about him that was unique," Malle said. I said, 'Let's go to a café and talk.' I discovered he'd been more or less forced by his mother to come; he had absolutely no interest in playing the part." The more Malle talked to Blaise, the more he grew convinced that he had found his Lucien.
But Blaise wasn't entirely taken with the filmmaking process when shooting began. He told Malle after the first few days of filming that he was going home. Malle and an assistant had to talk him into sticking around. Malle later determined that Blaise, who was only 17 at the time, didn't like how everyone on the set ordered him around all day long. Malle gathered his main technical collaborators together, and said, "...'Starting Monday, you're going to treat him as Alain Deon. Don't think of him as Pierre Blaise, this little peasant of seventeen. Think of him as Belmondo. You have to be really cautious. He's got the whole film on his shoulders; he's so much more important than any one of us.' And from then on, things went better. He started enjoying being the main man on the set."
br> Director: Louis Malle
Producer: Louis Malle, Claude Nedjar
Screenplay: Louis Malle, Patrick Modiano
Editor: Suzanne Baron
Cinematographer: Tonino Delli Colli
Music: Django Reinhardt, Andre Claveau, Irene de Trebert
Art Design: Ghislain Uhry
Cast: Pierre Blaise (Lucien), Aurore Clement (France), Holger Lowenadler (Albert Horn), Therese Giehse (Bella Horn), Stephane Bouy (Jean Bernard), Loumi Iacobesco (Betty Beaulieu), Rene Bouloc (Faure), Pierre Decazes (Aubert), Jean Rougerie (Tonin).
by Paul Tatara
Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien on DVD
France, June 1944: Lucien Lacombe (Pierre Blaise) is a farm boy in the village of Souleillac who finds his life unfulfilling and directionless. His father is in prison, his mother (Gilberte Rivet) is sleeping with their landlord and he hates his dreary job at a nursing home. He approaches his teacher (Jean Bousquet) about joining the resistance but is rejected. Picked up by the police one night after curfew, Lucien is taken to a hotel that serves as the headquarters for local French collaborators. When he reveals that his teacher is secretly a resistance leader, the group sees potential in the young man and recruits him into their organization. Lucien joins a group who refer to themselves as the local branch of the German police, but are little more than thugs who hunt down, arrest and torture Jews and resistance fighters for the Nazis. One of the boy's mentors, Jean-Bernard (Stephane Bouy), introduces him to Albert Horn (Holger Lowenadler), a Jewish tailor living in hiding in an apartment with his elderly mother (Therese Giehse) and teenage daughter, France (Aurore Clement). Horn pays bribes to Jean-Bernard to stay safe, hoping one day to escape to Spain. Lucien becomes infatuated with France and starts to visit the Horn household regularly against her father's objections, knowing that the tailor dare not cross him because the power his position gives him over their lives. For Horn, the frustration and disgust he feels over this situation becomes intolerable when, to his horror, France begins to reciprocate the young fascist's affections.
Anyone going into Lacombe, Lucien expecting a dry history lesson or a political diatribe against the evils of collaboration with the Nazis will be surprised to find that the film is neither. Malle avoids overt moralizing or any attempt to psychoanalyze his characters; instead, his technique is to step back and simply observe. What we discover is that most of the collaborators are not driven by political convictions. They are mere opportunists motivated by petty, selfish concerns. Before the war Tonin (Jean Rougerie) was a police officer dismissed as an undesirable; under the fascists he got a second chance and is now chief of police. Betty Beaulieu (Loumi Iacobesco) is a movie star whose career could only continue if she endorsed the regime in power. She clearly enjoys luxury and would be unwilling to flee her easy life for exile overseas or possible poverty if banned from working in the film industry. Jean-Bernard is a cynic who likes to remain comfortable and uses his position for personal gain through extortion. He doesn't believe Nazi propaganda and is plotting to flee with his ill-gotten gains before the political tide turns and the Allies liberate his village. Faure (Rene Bouloc) is a petty bureaucrat proud to get his own office. He's the only character to appear to truly believe and espouse Nazi racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric; it's part of his need to believe himself superior, much like the status symbol of the office. Watching this aggregation of opportunists go about their daily routine of roundups and torture without any moral qualms inevitably calls to mind Hannah Arendt's oft-quoted phrase describing Eichmann and others of the Nazi regime who did their jobs with indifference to the human dimension: the "banality of evil." One man casually whistles "Whistle While You Work" on his way to a torture session; a woman complains about a broken nail while men suffer a few doors away.
The central figure of Lucien resembles a version of the other collaborators that has been boiled down to its essence. He lacks the ability to feel compassion for others and is focused entirely on his own desires and impulses. At the start of the film he is completely rootless, despising his menial job and for all practical purposes without a family, since his father is imprisoned and his mother has no time for him. When he tries to join the resistance, it's clear that he does so not out of patriotic fervor, but out of boredom, a desire for direction in his life?and perhaps an outlet for his violent tendencies. Lucien is closer to being a sociopath than a true sadist, but he does enjoy the sense of power over others violence gives him. This is first glimpsed in a pre-credits scene in which Lucien casually uses a slingshot to kill a bird, for no reason other than because he can. (Later, after Lucien glimpses some resistance fighters, Malle adds the sound of a bird call on the soundtrack - possibly a signal by the resistance?linking the resistance fighters to the bird killed in the opening scene.) He joins up with the fascists only because they offer him the position the resistance denied him.
Joining the fascists is a perfect fit for Lucien, because it allows him to indulge his impulses within a structure that, far from trying to get him to conform to the standards of "decent society", actually encourages his impersonal cruelty and desire to dominate others. He gets petty revenge on the teacher that refused to allow him to join the resistance by giving his name to the collaborators, and is rewarded with the offer of a job. Later, he joins the other "police" arresting a wealthy doctor who aids the resistance. Lucien, a poor farm boy, enjoys needlessly destroying an elaborate ship model the doctor's pampered son spent month's building while the boy watches helplessly, unable to protest.
Lucien's desires include a family, and this draws him to Albert Horn and his daughter France. This section of the film is Malle at his best - fresh, compelling, unpredictable and insightful. In addition to desiring France as a girlfriend, Lucien wants Horn as a kind of surrogate father, but such a relationship cannot possibly succeed. The tailor is repulsed by what the boy stands for, and Lucien can never respect Horn's parental authority because he knows the power he holds over him. On his first social call, Lucien attempts to be polite, but his manners are a mixture of immaturity, provincial crudeness and fascist bullying. He brings gifts (champagne during the first visit; later, a watch), never thinking that a Jewish family might find it difficult to enjoy stolen Nazi loot. He wants them to be impressed and to like him, but the instant that fails he's ready to threaten them with reminders of his position to make sure he gets his way. When France questions him about his education, Lucien, embarrassed and a little drunk, lashes out: "I can have all of you arrested!" When he invites France to a party and Horn refuses to give permission, Lucien again uses intimidation, threatening to turn the family in to the Nazis. The dynamic on view is fascinating: Lucien, incapable of understanding or feeling true love, pursues love and intimacy in the only way he knows how - through threats, domination and intimidation, forces that are enemies of the trust needed in any caring relationship.
The story's big surprise is that France begins to respond to Lucien and care for him nonetheless. This, though, is entirely consistent with what Malle has shown throughout the film: personal needs and desires almost always trump politics. France is a young woman with normal romantic desires and sexual urges that are frustrated by her need to remain hidden. Lucien is handsome and attentive, and his political influence allows her to temporarily forget the persecution that casts a shadow over her life. After the fun she is having at a party at the collaborators' hotel is shattered by an ugly confrontation with a jealous maid, she breaks down and tells Lucien that sometimes she is "tired of being a Jew." She just wants to be able to indulge in everyday pleasures without fear, and being with Lucien makes that possible. Her father, being the one character who clings to his principles as a shield against the horrors of the world, cannot accept France caring for a fascist monster, and this sets the stage for tragic events in the film's final acts.
Malle's cast is flawlessly chosen. Pierre Blaise, who had never acted in films before, is excellent in the title role. He combines a boyishly handsome face with eyes that are cold and intensely focused. His performance is natural and restrained. Sadly, Blaise died the year after the film was released. As Albert Horn, Holger Lowenadler effectively conveys the tailor's quiet dignity, and the suppressed anger and frustration he feels as Lucien intrudes more and more into his life. Aurore Clement succeeds in making France's feelings for Lucien entirely credible.
As mentioned above, Malle's visual plan for the film is to employ a style that is observational, which avoids melodramatic cliches, increases the sense of realism and keeps the focus on the characters. His evocation of the period is very successful. He eschews the overused Hollywood techniques of shooting through diffusion filters to lend the past a stylized, hazy look, or relying on a few pop culture references to remind the audience when the film is set. The style is more direct and immediate, and thus more powerful.
Criterion's DVD of Lacombe, Lucien is another splendid presentation from the company that continues to set the standard for the industry. The 1.66:1 , 16 x 9 enhanced transfer is beautiful, with superb color and detail, and the French mono soundtrack is clear and vivid. The only extras are a French trailer and a reprint of Pauline Kael's review which is included in the disc booklet. The film is available by itself or as part of the box set 3 Films by Louis Malle, which also includes Le Souffle au Coeur, Au Revoir Les Enfants and a disc of bonus materials this reviewer did not have an opportunity to view.
For more information about Lacombe, Lucien, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Lacombe, Lucien, go to TCM Shopping.
by Gary Teetzel
Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien on DVD
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1974
Released in United States September 1974
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States April 1981
Released in United States April 1988
Shown at New York Film Festival September 28 & 29, 1974.
Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1974
The Country of France
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Academy Award Nominees: Best Foreign Language Film) March 13-26, 1975.)
Released in United States September 1974 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 28 & 29, 1974.)
Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FilmEssay: The Best of Filmex) April 2-23, 1981.)
Released in United States April 1988 (Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.)