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?