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Lacombe, Lucien (Criterion Collection)
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One of the first French films to address the issue of collaboration during the German Occupation Louis Malle's brave and controversial Lacombe Lucien traces a young peasant's journey from potential Resistance member to Gestapo recruit. At once the story of a nation and one troubled boy's horrific coming-of-age the film is a disquieting portrait of lost innocence and guilt.System Requirements:Running Time 138 Mins.Format: DVD MOVIE Genre: DRAMA Rating: R UPC: 037429212424 Manufacturer No: LUC070
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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.
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.
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.
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?
Malle's masterstroke was to approach the German gestapo and its tentacles, the French collaborators, as a type of Mafia organization. Thus, this film can be seen as more a precursor of films like "Good Fellas" than "Schindler's List". It's the simple story of a boy who falls in with a gang of thugs--who in this case are the German police.
Pierre Blaise was an excellent and brave choice to play the boy, Lucien, because Blaise was an untrained and untried actor of seventeen. The raw crudeness he brings to the character is authentic--Blaise, according to observers, was unsure of himself and resentful of the film crew. He truly "did not like being talked down to", both in the film and in real life. With his guarded expressions, clumsy attempts at being a 'tough guy', and inarticulateness, Blaise nearly resembles a very young version of Charles Bronson.
Lucien, of course, is a character who is not fully formed into adulthood, and this sets up the central tension in the film, which is a kind of Faustian struggle for his soul. The angel of Lucien's "better nature" is his Jewish girlfriend, "France", played by Aurore Clement. Clement brings a fresh-faced beauty (equal to present day actress Gwyneth Paltrow's) to her character, who holds out the possibility of freeing up Lucien's emotions.
In the final frames, Clement and Blaise flee to the countryside and cavort in brief, fleeting glimpses of idyllic bliss. Like the outlaws in "Bonnie and Clyde", the characters are revealed as doomed in these haunting last scenes.
Strangely enough, the young actor Pierre Blaise perished in an auto accident only a year after this movie was completed.
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