Lacombe, Lucien

During the Nazi occupation, Lucien (Blaise), a disaffected French farm boy weary of his home life and his job at a sanatorium, joins the Gestapo after the Resistance rejects him. Lucien seems matter-of-fact about informing on Resistance members in his rural village, and to enjoy his first flush of “belonging” to something while among his German comrades. Yet, from his taciturn manner, set eyes and scowl, he clearly nurses some deep and personal wounds, the nature of which has rendered him cold and hard-hearted. His heart gets jump-started when he meets and gets acquainted with Albert (Löwenadler), a kindly and elegant Jewish tailor, who he quickly regards as a father figure, and falls in love with Albert’s beautiful daughter, symbolically named France (Clément). Unable to express himself, Lucien’s demeanor borders between thoughtless and cruel to clumsily sweet, and Malle’s handling of Lucien’s difficult personality is amazing for as much as we want to strangle the boy, we want to embrace him too. He’s a punk, no doubt, but, as indifferently as he treats Albert and France, even so far as threatening them and making sexual advances at France, we realize that the thuggish hostility is, in fact, his plea for a family. This is not an easy feat for a filmmaker to pull off, but Malle manages it masterfully, allowing his story to unfold gently, never sugarcoating Lucien’s viciousness, never softening the implications of his behavior. And that’s what makes Lucien’s slow moral awakening that much more startling, and poignant. Malle’s absolute faith in his skills as a storyteller and in the inherent power of this true story puts Lacombe, Lucien in the company of the best humanist portraits ever filmed.

Grade: A

Directed by: Louis Malle
Written by: Louis Malle, Patrick Modiano
Cast: Pierre Blaise, Aurore Clément, Holger Löwenadler, Therese Giehse, Stéphane Bouy, Loumi Iacobesco, René Bouloc

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