You see, Tarantino, before he became a famous director, worked in a movie rental store. Some (not so very brilliant) guy came in looking for a movie that he had thought was named “Reservoir Dogs.” It turned out that he meant Louis Malle‘s wonderful film, “Au revoir les enfants.”
Quentin decided to immortalize the poor schmuck’s mistake by making it the title of his first big film, linked above. He also honored Malle’s film indirectly, and a good move that was.
“Au revoir les enfants” is a simple story. French boarding school in Occupied France. Two boys, one plain old French catholic one (Julien) (a stand-in, as it turns out, for Malle as a child), and one boy (Jean) who came to the school under mysterious circumstances, and who gets a bed close to our initial hero. They become best buddies. Hmm, the child during wartime is sneaked into a school. Jean is carefully hidden by the priests during inspections. He knows none of the prayers that the other boys have known by heart since they could talk. Julien discovers that Jean’s surname is faked. And the priests won’t give him communion, no matter if it makes him stand out a bit. Not to mention that late on a Friday night, Julien wakes to see Jean praying, standing in front of two lit, smuggled candles, while the other boys are asleep.
One’s ears have plenty of opportunities to become pricked: this is a “hidden child,” a Jewish child sent by his parents to live in safety with strangers, in disguise, before the parents were taken off by the Germans.
One also knows that the Gestapo eventually comes. The head Gestapo officer finds Jean in class, singling him out even though his classmates don’t point him out. They stare at each other for a minute before Jean carefully puts his pen into the pen box and stands to go with the officer, who shuts down the school, finds a handful of other Jews, arrests them and the head priests, and shuts down the school.
In a last packing scene, Jean whispers to Julien “Don’t be upset; they would have found me anyway.”
We last see Julien and the others marched out of the school in front of the lines of other boys, waiting for whatever transport will take them home. “Au revoir mon papa,” the boys shout at the retreating back of the priest. “Au revoir les enfants! (Goodbye, children!)” the priest shouts back, as if all is normal.
That is the last we see of them, and the last we will ever see, according to the voiceover. All die in camps.
I’d write more, but I’m still savoring the end of the movie (and keeping the tears back too).