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‘I reinvented the past in the pursuit of a haunting and timeless truth’: Do Louis Malle’s war films correspond to the notion of the postmodern historical drama?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The movie Au revoir les enfants
    1. The visceral quality of the movie
  3. The movie Lacombe Lucien
    1. The character of Lucien
    2. His killing animals through hunting
  4. Revisiting the past with a highly personal vision
  5. Rosenstone: Defining some of the distinctive traits of the postmodern historical film
    1. Answering the question 'what do these (real) postmodern history films do to the past'?
    2. The example of the kitchen boy Joseph in Au revoir les enfants
  6. Contradictions apparent in the content of the films
  7. The narratives of Lacombe Lucien and Au revoir les enfants
    1. The aesthetics qualities of the Jewish tailor Albert Horn's apartment
    2. The slow pacing of the end sequences
  8. The ideological vacuum sorounding the movie Lacombe Lucien
    1. The perceptions of the Black person
    2. Contradictions in the arrest of Dr Vaugeois
    3. The irony of the situation captured by images
    4. The films rejection of the notions of truth and morality
  9. The lack of an overall summing up of the story
  10. Conclusion
  11. Bibliography

In a review published by the French periodical Le Nouvel Observateur, critic Jean-Louis Bory (1974: 56-57) described Lacombe, Lucien (1974) as ?the first real film?and the first true film?about the Occupation' He added, ?I know. I was there'. The problematic nature of this statement is at the heart of what both Lacombe, Lucien and Au revoir les enfants (Goodbye children, 1987) seem to address, mainly the ideas of recorded history, experiences and memory. Lacombe, Lucien follows a young man, played by Pierre Blaise, caught in the collaboration movement during the German Occupation of France in 1944-1945 while Au revoir les enfants is a semi-autobiographical account of Louis Malle's time spent as a young boy in a school hiding Jewish children during the same period. Therefore, the phrase ?true film' is a contradiction, the films being ?fiction' and therefore not ?true'. Furthermore, the questioning of the idea of ?truth', and especially historical truth, can be considered the main theme for both films. When Bory says ?I know', we might question whether one can truly ?know', especially when the sole justification is presence and eye-witness accounts, as suggested by the statement, ?I was there'. Louis Malle was also ?there' but he exposes the fickle and uncertain aspects of his memory in his films and makes clear that his own memory is not a pathway to a ?true' and objective account of the period.

[...] Albert Horn sums up this idea when he tells Lucien, ?it's very strange. I can't bring myself to hate you completely'. Malle (in Raskin, 1986: explains that, is this very opacity of the characters that allows all sorts of contradictory interpretations to be placed on them, developed in the name of preconceived theoretical positions.[3]? The films do not carry a sort of grand message, and following postmodern thought-processes, there is no definite truth or knowledge being revealed. There is no judgment on the part of the filmmaker towards Lucien. [...]


[...] Malle (in Bernstein, 1988) said about Au revoir les enfants, reinvented the past in the pursuit of a haunting and timeless truth'. By remembering his own childhood and individual war experience, he provided what appears to be a fairly accurate account of the period as recollected by himself. Despite the fact that it is semi-autobiographical, it can be read as a portrait of a section of society and of childhood under the Occupation. It is also a personal journey of grieving for the ?real' life event that the young Louis Malle and his peers endured during the raid carried out by the Gestapo on their school. [...]


[...] Entretien avec Michel Foucault. Cahiers du Cinema (251-252), p Frey, H. (2004). Louis Malle. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Friedman, R. (1984). Exorcising the Past: Jewish Figures in Contemporary Films. Journal of Contemporary History Garcon, Francois. (1992). Cinéma et histoire autour de Marc Ferro. CinemAction Greene, N. (1999). Landscapes of loss, the national past in postwar French cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Higgins, L. A. (1992). If Looks Could Kill: Louis Malle's Portraits of Collaboaration. In R. J. Golsan Fascism, Aesthetics, and Culture (pp. [...]

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