This may not be one of Louis Malle's best known films but Pierre Blaise, an untrained actor chosen by Malle for the title role, comes across like a young Brando. As the son of a French landowner who is presently a German P.O.W. he finds himself none too happy with his job scrubbing hospital floors or the takeover of his father's farm by a somewhat agressive neighbour. After being snubbed by a former school teacher who now recruits for the French resistance he stumbles onto a hotel used by collaborators. He finds himself welcomed and adapts quickly. He is a farm boy who doesn't like "being talked down to" and makes this abundantly clear whenever the situation warrants. His scenes with the highly experienced Belgian actor Holger Lowenadler who plays Albert Horn a Jewish tailor equal anything ever filmed in their setting, timing and mood. Lucien is attracted to Horn's daughter France played by Aurore Clement another Malle prodigy who although not quite up to Blaise's talent is stunningly beautiful in her tragic circumstances. Lucien's attempts at urbanity are seen as preposterous by Miss Horn but when he tells her father that he is not too pleased with the golf trousers he has made for him there is a certain menace in his manner that is stunningly real. The young man proves later that he will kill rather than be humbled regardless of who his antagonist happens to be. He is fond of France but with a purely sexual desire which he makes no attempt to disguise. There are certain gaps in the filming or perhaps the editing but Malle obviously wants to let Blaise be himself as he is perfect for the role and in all likelihood would not react well to excessive directing.Read more ›
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A Powerful Film With Great ImpactMay 22 2006
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As LACOMBE LUCIEN begins, you assume you'll like the main character. We find him at work in a nursing home. He decides to take a break from the tedious job of washing the floors, goes to the window to get a glimpse of the sunny day and enjoy the beauty of a small yellow songbird singing in a tree. We then see him reach in his pocket, take out a slingshot, and kill the bird. Later we'll see he does the same with rabbits and chickens. It's the Lucien of the beginning of the film and the one who we still see at the end.
LACOMBE LUCIEN, directed by Louis Malle, is a film that tells the story of Lucien, a troubled young man who appears to have few friends and is not welcome at home. We learn his father is in prison and his mother has taken up with someone else. Though we never learn about the father's absence, it's likely that it has something to do with the war which may be why Lucien seems to want to be a member of the French Resistance. He tries to join, but is rebuffed by a former teacher who believes he's too young and undisciplined. Lucien has an ambivalent reaction to the rebuff and we assume he'll just continue his employment at the nursing home. The action changes when patrons at a hotel capture Lucien's attention. His curiosity gets him in trouble but ends up being an opportunity. He then becomes involved with the police who are in line with the Gestapo.
Pierre Bliase is an excellent Lucien. He's consistent throughout and never gives us a chance to see the character as a lovable ruffian who would be different if is someone cared. Holger Lowenadler plays Albert Horn, a Jewish tailor and the father of Aurore Clement's France, the woman who becomes Lucien's love interest. The Horns accommodate Lucien, but it's unclear as to whether he realizes it is out of convenience and nothing more. Other characters in the film include members of the police who seem like typical turncoats, a middle aged maid who has a brief romantic entanglement with Lucien, and the villagers of Lucien's hometown. Like Malle's AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS, we get a feeling of occupied France toward the end of the war.
At the time of its release, the film was somewhat controversial. Only French resisters with noble character made it to the screen. Lucien is anything but noble. He's a misfit who never would have been accepted as a member of the police if it had not been 1944. Anyone with even a glimmer of intelligence knew the American would be liberating France in due time and had changed their loyalties but Lucien is unaware of any reality outside his own world. Malle had originally planned on setting the film in Mexico during a revolution but was unable to film in that country, so he decided that the setting could be France and the story set in the late days of the war. No one would ever guess from viewing the film of these changes which is a testament to the strength of Lucien's character and why the film can be so haunting today as we wonder what causes young people to become terrorists, join gangs, or take the wrong side in struggles that are ultimately against their best interest.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Evil at its most banal and inadequateJune 12 2006
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Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien still impresses, although it does tend to amble in the third act just when you might expect it to tighten its grip. But it's still a casually powerful reminder of the less heroic side of France under Vichy rule (the Nazis are barely seen in the film) as its none too bright farmboy just drifts almost accidentally into collaboration with the German Police made up entirely of his compatriots after being turned down for the Resistance. The film's major achievement is in showing, much like fascism in general, the appeal that collaboration had to the disaffected and the underachieving outsiders in the community (only one of the `police' is a real zealot) and the attraction of undeserved and unearned power as Lucien finds the power he has over people (particularly the unspoken threat of handing his Jewish `girlfriend' - perhaps a little over symbolically called `France' - to the Germans) is far more intoxicating than killing mere animals.
Throughout, as with Melville's resistance masterpiece L'Armee des Ombres, there's a mundane sense of reality that heightens the drama. Set in the kind of small picturesque village that outsiders find idyllic but which is a tedious hell to live in for the locals, it shows how malaise and opportunity is far more of a driving force than malice. Certainly it's far from glamorous, its collaborators hanging round in a local hotel getting drunk and bemoaning their lot as the war news gets continually worse (as one points out, you have to listen to both the German and the British radio reports "and split the difference" to find the truth) and they gradually get picked off by the emboldened locals.
The only extra on Criterion's disc is the imaginative theatrical trailer, so this might be worth picking up in Criterion's boxed set which also includes Au Revoir Les Enfants, Murmur of the Heart and an exclusive disc of extras mainly focussing on Louis Malle rather than the films themselves.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Collaboration in France from an understanding point of viewJan. 26 2007
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Very interesting film, and technically perfect. It captures the attention from start to finish, although it becomes a little agravating in its middle part because of the inactivity of its main character.
Beautiful exterior locations in the southwest of France during the weeks following the landing in Normandy of the British and American troops. A young country kid, very good at hunting and domestic chores, is rejected by the local teacher and leader of the resistence. Knowing no better he enrolls in the German police and becomes a collaborator. The role of Lucien is played by a non professional, and he does great. His naturalness couldn't be achieved otherwise. But I think the director didn't give him enough lines. Lucien is too quiet -unnaturally quiet-, too inactive. This becomes agravating through the middle section of the film when you wish he would do something, either way good or worse. But the story lingers as it is stuck with the Jewish taylor and his daughter. They seem to be feeling the same as the viewer: "What's up with you? Do something!"
It's almost 2 and a half hours of film, not 70 odd minutes as it says above. Not the best Malle movie (which to me is 'Au revoir les enfants', also during the German occupation of France), but it is a great movie.
It's an excellent study of characters, universal characters. It poses the question whether this simple young kid could be blamed for what he did by those who refused to accept him for the cause of the resistence. But then, who would we blame? If we start forgiving him, we'd end forgiving everyone, then justice would be so relativistic it would have no sense even defending oneself. It would be anarchy, the law of the stronger. Well, this is the kind of debate ir arises, because Lucien is a likable fellow, although simple.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Good filmSept. 14 2008
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Every so often a director makes an inspiring casting choice to not hire a real actor for a role, but go with an unknown, an amateur. Perhaps the best example of this was in Vittorio De Sica's 1952 film Umberto D., wherein he cast Carlo Battisti, a retired college professor from the University of Florence, as the lead character. Yet, not that far behind has to be Louis Malle's decision to caste the lead character for his 1974 film, Lacombe, Lucien with an amateur named Pierre Blaise. No actor would likely be able to capture the natural ferality that Blaise brings to the role of a none too bright French farm boy who unwittingly, at first, becomes an accomplice and collaborator with the Gestapo in the final months of Vichy France, in late 1944. He is not evil, even though the film abounds with moments of animal cruelty that seem to delight both the actor and character to such a degree that separating the two of them is nearly an impossible task. Then there is the utter grunting stolidity that Blaise brings to the role. Any real actor would likely have gone over the top, trying to `make a scene' where the film dictates the character need only be in the margins of the scene. And, the truth is that there is little to be had from each scene. The screenplay is assured but minimal, but that feels right, as we sort of wander through scene after scene of evil and violence with the same lack of bearing that Blaise/Lacombe does....In some ways, Lacombe has much in common with Stanley Kubrick's thuggish Little Alex, from A Clockwork Orange, save that he is more restrained and realistic. He also never really changes in the film- he starts and ends the tale as an impassive and predatory Sphinx who could have easily become a Resistance hero as a Vichy thug, if only his bicycle's back tire had not blown out near the local Vichy leaders' home. Perhaps this is why Albert tells him that, despite his abuse of his family, `Somehow I can't bring myself to completely despise you.' Neither can the viewer of this film, which is why the complex and probing Malle is a much better filmmaker than the obvious and often preachy works of his New Wave rivals, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. But, I need not even state such a case, when his films do all the talking necessary. Sssh.....hear that?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A stunning portrayal of humanity at its weakest...Dec 24 2008
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A few months back I had the privilege of catching Louis Malle's masterful `Au Revoir Les Enfants' and I was immediately smitten. His command of the material is nearly flawless, and his inspired subject matter is as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming. He has the ability to transcend the boundaries of film by presenting the audience with a complex moral debate, and `Lacombe, Lucien' is no exception. Just as haunting, but slightly less commanding, `Lacombe, Lucien' is an extremely well crafted character study that is as controversial as it is important.
The film takes place during the summer of 1944 in a small town in France. A young teen named Lucien attempts to join the resistance but is rejected due to his age. Feeling betrayed and embittered Lucien makes a grave choice; to turn his back on his friends and join the Gestapo. Never fully understanding the weight of his decisions, Lucien lives his new life like it were a right, taking what he feels he deserves and holding his power over the heads of those in his way. He forms a relationship of sorts with a Jewish tailor and his beautiful daughter, whom Lucien takes a liking to. His morals are conflicted by his new situation, and his choices thereafter cause a huge rift in his life.
Delicately directed, `Lacombe, Lucien' is a very graceful film, despite its dark subject. It flows fluidly, never dragging or testing our patience. The weight of the material is always felt, but it never becomes a burden as Malle knows well how to balance out the darkness with the light.
My one slight concern with the film falls in the line of Lucien himself. Pierre Blaise (who looks a lot like a young Ray Liotta) is not an actor (or at least he wasn't at the time) and while he possesses an odd naturalness that compliments his character, he also lacks the technical proficiency that would have elevated his character. There are moments of silence that would have been drastically uplifted had he known what to do with his face, but instead Blaise wears the same mask of indifference throughout the film. This is effective during the films center scenes, where his head is big and his cruelty is dominant; but as the film closes and his emotional conflictions become the films focus I was put off by Blaise's lack of depth.
Fairing much greater are Aurore Clement and Holger Lowenadler. Lowenadler is fascinating as Albert. He captures this mans desire to reach this child without contaminating his daughter in the process, and Clement is marvelous as France, allowing the actions of Lucien to affect her personally. She wears her every emotion clear to us. We can see her mix of disgust and fascination as she battles her own attraction to Lucien. It's a very intimate and effective performance.
In the end the film is fascinating to say the least. The script is brilliantly written. It flows masterfully, complete with a beautiful rise and fall that keeps us glued to the seat. One is left with many questions to ask about their own feelings and beliefs. Free choice is a gift that one's often misuse, but misuse has price.