Au Revoir Les Enfants (France, 1987)

Figure 1.--The uniform worn at school was a blue seater, tie, and blue short pants worn with blue kneesocks. All the boys wore the same uniform.

This French film is one of the classic films dealing with World War II boyhoods. It begins much like an ordinary school film with the normal friendships and conflicts among the boys. The film centers on the conflict and then growing frienship between the star pupil and a new boy who provides a little competition. Increasingly the War infringes upn the school. Along with being a fine film, many of the classoc French chool styles are seen, including berets, capes, short pants, and kneesocks. As younger children are not at the school, smocks are not pictured.


This wonderful, but tragic film is based on the prsonal experiences of Director Louis Malle's tragic Au Revoir. Malle is a gifted craftsman who directed another film illustrating French boyhood fashions, Murmer of the Heart. Au Revoir is based on Malle's actual experiences at a boarding school in the last gew months of occupation by the Germans before liberation. Readers may want to see the HBC page on the Holocaust in France for background information. The Lucien character is actualy Malle as a boy. The boy depicted as Jean was murdered by the NAZIs, I think at Auschwitz.


Au Revoir les Enfants translates as "Goodbye children", a better trnslation, however would probably be "Goodbye childhood".

Figure 2.--The boys at school,all wear the school uniform.. The boys in grey suits are just arriving or leaving. Note that the suits they are wearing are both long and short pants suits. Note the heavy boot-like shoes many of the boys wear.


The movie is set at a Catholic Jesuit boarding school during the Nazi World War II occupation of France. The story develops during the winter of 1943-44. This makes the events particularly tragic as France is so close to liberation.


The conclusion of the movie is heart breaking. Until the end it was a rather ordinary film describing boyhood conflict and friendships at a French boarding school. The conclusion is shocking, especially as it actually occured and the director Louis Malle witnessed it.

For 12-year-old student Lucien (Gaspard Manesse), 1944 isn't going to be just another semester of Latin gerundives, Hail Marys and shortsheeting. Lucien is used to being the standout scholar, but the newboy misteriously arrives and gives him a run for his money. He at first takes on the boy, but they become good friends. The bright new boy Jean Bonnet, has a carefully guarded secret.

One of the key players as school principal Pe`re Jean (Philippe Morier-Genoud), a courageous man undertaking a risky venture.

One reviewr believes that Jean Bonnet's relationship with Lucien is crucial, it remains unexplored. He says that, "They meet. They talk. They halt, unsure of each other. The chemistry between them never quite happens, and Malle meanwhile seems too busy with the overview, the look, the flow." HBC is not sure this is accurate. The rekationship is actually developed in some detail. The two were competing for the top of the class. Thus although they became friends, their relationship was bound to be complex.

Figure 3.--Lucien when he goes out with his mother for dinner, puts on a blue blazer and grey short pants. Apparently the school uniform was considered a casual outfit, not suitable for going into town for dinner.

There are many intersting vignettes in the film. Much of film's concludingh impact comes from the lack of dramatic tension prvided in the body of the film. In one scene Lucien and Jean, playing a game of military hide and seek, get lost among rocks in the woods. In another an old gentleman regular at a restaurant is asked to leave by a French collaborator, only to be invited back by a sympathetic German officer. Lucien himself almost gets him and his mother in trouble when he is rude to the Germans

The ending is very moving, but sad. Tragically, the Jewish boys are betrayed and the Gestapo seize three boys and the school's headmaster. A brilliant, moving film, despite the sad ending. At least the boys forget their prejudices and all are horrified by what is happening to their schoolmates and the headmaster.


The actors playing the two boys that the film is set around are Gaspard Manesse and Raphael Fejto. The reviwer is critical of the two actors playing the boys. He writes,"Manesse's Lucien has arresting, cute-boy features, but he's really a wide-eyed, moving prop, reciting his tables, wetting his bed. Raphael Fejto 's Jean, in turn, is a pathetic kid who keeps his distance from everybody -- including us." I did not get this impression from viewing the film. Of course I don't speak French, which somehow limits by ability to assess their performances.


The hero, 11-year old Julien (Gaspard Manesse), is a mama's boy who wets his bed at night. He is a proud, intelligent, but infantile child who bristles when a new boy with intelligence equals to his own, Bonnet (Raphael Fetjo), enters his class. Bonnet, tall, tentative, rather stand offish, is a Jew being hidden by the priests and Carmalite nuns at the school. Julien doesn't quite know what a Jew is, but he knows they are hated, and he uses it against his new schoolmate. Julien almost betrayed a Jewish schoolmate to the NAZIs through intellectual vanity as he fails to realize that his "clever" taunts are an open threat to expose him. Eventually they become friends.


The film provides a lot of information on the clothes worn by French boys during World War II. Most of the scenes show the boys in their school uniform, but there are scenes in their ordinary clothes as well. I can not be certain how accurate the costuming is. However, as the film recreates Malle's own experiences, you would think that the costumes would be fairly accurate. Their is no indication in the film as to whether they like or dislike their school uniform and other clothes.

Figure 4.--Walking on stilt was apparently a popular activity. The boys wore their shortpants school uniform even in the cold winter weather. These boys are wearing their capes.


The boys wear berets with their school uniforms and with their scouting activities. (They dont wear scout uniforms, but simply put neckerchiefs on with their school uniform.) They do not wear their berets, however, when they put on their regular suits. I seem to remember one scene where they are tossing around the new boy's beret. The berets appear to be quite common in this film. Interestingly, the beret disappeared very rapidly as boys clothes after the war. French boys began viewing the beret as silly an old fashioned.


The boys do not have coats to wear with their school uniform, but they do have heavy capes to wear in the cold weather.


The school uniform does not include a suit jacket or blazer.


Several boys are shown in their regular clothes. Luciem, for example, purs on a blue blazer and grey short pants when going out to dinner with his mother. Other boys are seen in grey suits,


Ties were rewuired with the school uniform. The boys wear plain blue ties.

Figure 5.--The cold weather gear at the school was the traditional school cape. I have seen this worn at other private schools.


All the boys wear blue sweaters as part of their school uniform.


All the boys wrar the blue uniform short pants. The voys in suits wear both short pants and long pants suits. French boys at the time mostly wore short pants suits, but long pants suits were not unknowm. I am not sure just why a boy wore a short pants as opposed to a long pants suit, but assume is was simly a parent's preferences. As to whether other factors such as social class or rehional differences were involved, I am not sure. Many of the boys wear very long short pants. These aremuch longer than the sorts I have noticed in contemporary photographs. This may well be a historical inaccuracy. I don't think French boys at the time wore shorts that extended to or below the knee.


All the boys in shorts wear kneesocks. The uniform kneesocks were blue. The boys in suits wear grey kneesocks.


Several of the boys wear the heavy boot-like shoes that were still common in the 1940s.

Figure 6.--The boys are shown wearing their berets throughout the film.

Film Assessment

Reputedly one of the best films made about children and the war, a true European classic. Partially based on Director Louis Malle's childhood.

Belgian Film

HBC has some information about a Flemish school in occupied Belgium. The two films were set in approimately the same time period. The main character in the Flemish film, however, is a member of the Hitler Youth or associated pro-German Flemish youth movement.


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Created: January 30, 2000
Last updated: February 7, 2003