A small town in the south-west of France, summer of 1944. Having failed to join the resistance, the 18 year old Lucien Lacombe, whose father is a prisoner in Germany and whose mother dates her employer, works for the German police. He then meets France Horn, the daughter of a rich jewish tailor.Written by
Vincent Merlaud <email@example.com>
The film was considered rather controversial at the time as it showed a more accurate depiction of the ratio of collaborators to resistance unlike many other French produced films that suggest there were very few collaborators due to the sense of betrayal felt. See more »
Cruelty, love, and survival in Provincial France, WWII
Lacombe, Lucien (1974)
A disturbing and sad movie about surviving the Nazi occupation in France. It's unlike any other film of its type, turning from tender to ruthless in a breath, and from joyous to ghastly just as fast. And though the Nazis are behind the violence and fear, they play a mostly indirect role in the cornering of a small Jewish family in the countryside. This is a tale about French and French, about the Resistance against collaborators.
And it's told from the point of view of the collaborators, a gang of opportunistic thugs who have taken over an old hotel and who terrorize, with German supplied documents, ordinary citizens. The title character is Lucien, an utterly heartless but somehow, at times, sympathetic boy who gets pulled into the lure of these thugs. But he shows a scary detachment from all feeling, even from love at first, and certainly from respect for life. There is a hint that he grew to think human life was cheap from his days hunting and killing animals without a flinch as a youth, but it could be the movie is showing that he had almost a disorder, something that made him unfeeling even for the most ordinary, harmless, vulnerable things. I think the former is more accurate, though, because his hunting rabbits and killing a chicken with his hands were probably (and still are) part of country life where rabbit and chicken were part of the cuisine.
But it's people who will eventually be his target, and he is not like his older counterparts. He doesn't want the spoils of war, not money or finery, resisting at first even the suit the Jewish tailor is ordered to make for him. It is here the movie gets to what matters. Lucien is ignorant enough to not quite see why this Jewish man is any different than other men, but he catches on when others around him make clear the Jew is only alive and in hiding as their choice. I guess they need a good tailor, and they need the man's money (the tailor pays when he makes the suits, it seems). The complication of a beautiful (and very French looking) daughter takes some of the expected turns, but not completely, because this very young man doesn't really know how to behave, or how to fall in love.
The director, Louis Malle, is a legend of French cinema, and later even of American cinema. He depends on location shooting, natural light, and naturalistic acting to give every scene a believability that is both beautiful and at times uncanny, especially combined with violence to animals. The lead actor, Pierre Blase, is almost too convincing in his cool and relatively mindless determination. The tailor, played by Holger Löwenadler, a Swedish actor, is a model of patience and continual assessment, trying to play the game with the thugs for his survival. His daughter is less fully realized, with Aurore Clement playing this charming and innocent girl withheld from normal life by the war. But she does in fact learn to love Lucien in her own way, and he responds in his own way.
Needless to say, the end is tragic and rather perfect. And the whole troubling two hours getting there will leave you moved, for sure, but also enlightened. The problem of loyalty and survival takes on new light here.
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