in progress edited by Daniel
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
year, French movie director Louis Malle releases Au
Revoir les Enfants, an autobiographical film based on childhood memories.
the context is France during the second world war, and the stage is a Catholic
school that was sheltering Jewish pupils.
Malle was born in 1932 in Thumeries, near Lille in northern France. Malle’s
story takes place in 1944, at a Catholic boarding school in Nazi-occupied
France. At the start of a new semester, three new students are enrolled. It soon
becomes obvious that they are Jews who are attempting to hide from Nazi
persecution by assuming new names and identities.
story revolves around the friendship between one of these boys, Jean, and a
French boy named Julien. Eventually Julien discovers that Jean is Jewish. The
friends' lives are severely disrupted one day by the appearance of a Gestapo
officer, obviously tipped off by an informer. Julien makes a tragic mistake
which will haunt him for the rest of his life. The Jewish boy, along with the
Catholic priests who have hidden him, is hauled away by the Nazis at the end of
the film. In interviews Malle pointed out that the defining moment in Au Revoir
les Enfants does not exactly parallel what happened in real life, but serves as
a platform for the exploration of guilt, racism, and the regret of the
consequences of an irretrievable unthinking moment. Au
Revoir les Enfants has found its way into the curriculum of courses ranging
in level from high schools to graduate film studies. The use of film as a
teaching tool has grown dramatically since the release of Au
Revoir les Enfants.
this age of VCRs, DVDs, satellite dishes, and digital media the development of
critical viewing skills has become as important as the development of critical
reading skills. Dramatization in film can put a face on history and bring to
life historical events and issues in a way that captures the imagination of
learners of all ages and levels of literacy. Another advantage of using film in
the classroom is that students generally like to watch them, considering them a
departure from traditional teaching/learning methods.
issues of racism and the holocaust, which are the main themes of Malle’s film,
are among the most commonly dramatized in twentieth century film. In fact, our
knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust today has been profoundly
influenced by the ability of film and television to provide a visual recounting
of the horrific events. The American television miniseries Holocaust,
which aired in 1978, is credited with radically altering the opinions and
attitudes of young Germans toward the events of World War II. Among those
who saw the series, the number favoring the failed German-resistance plot of 20
July 1944 to assassinate Hitler rose dramatically. It was reported that 70% of
those in the 14 to 19 age group declared that they had learned more from the
shows about the horrors of the Nazi regime than they had learned in all their
years of studying West German history. Such was the public response that West
Germany promptly canceled the statute of limitations for Nazi war crimes,
formerly scheduled to expire at the end of 1979.
powerful films exploring racism and the holocaust include Steven Speilberg’s Schindler’s
List (1993), and Roberto Benigni’s Life
is Beautiful (1997). Schindler’s
List differs from Au Revoir les
Enfants in that it graphically depicts the horrors of the German
concentration camps. Malle’s film avoids such visuals and focuses on the
complexities of the relationships between the boys as friendship, loyalty, and
racism collide in the film’s climactic moments. One of the risks of using
using film as a document of history is that, even if the story is based on real
facts and if the director includes documentary footage, the public is seeing
history through the eyes of one storyteller. This storyteller (the filmmaker)
has great power to manipulate facts and incite emotions. Arguably the most
famous propaganda film of the twentieth century was Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, a documentary of the Nuremberg Rallies of 1934.
This film is credited with popularizing the myth of Hitler’s master race.
Au Revoir les
be used to explore themes of friendship, trust and betrayal among students and
teachers’ silent acts of heroism, particularly in moments of real danger. It
can also be helpful to discuss issues of separation, resistance, the role of
women during war, and war itself. It is a valuable historically based document
and resource for teachers and learners of all ages and academic levels.
Corbett, J.C. Au Revoir to Film Illiteracy: An Interdisciplinary Expolration of Au Revoir les Enfants. Copyright 1998 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Online. Available: http://www.ncte.org/pdfs/members-only/ej/0871-jan98/EJ0871Film.PDF
Ebert, Roger. Au Revoir les Enfants, Review. Chicago Sun-Times, March 28, 1988. Online. Available: http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1988/03/284661.html
Hornshøj-Møller, Stig. Using authentic Nazi propaganda in teaching the Holocaust: Problems, possibilities, dangers and experiences. Paper presented at the 27th Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA, March 2-4, 1997. Copenhagen, Denmark Online, Available: http://holocaust-info.dk/shm/florida.htm
Morey, Anne. Holocaust U.S. Miniseries. Review.Online. Available: http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/H/htmlH/holocaust/holocaust.htm
Gretchen.Growing Up, Reaching Out:
Multiculturalism through Young
Adult Literature and Films in The Allen Review, Spring 1995, Volume 22, Number 3. Online. Available: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/spring95/DivCONN.html
by Ian McLean, OISE/UT
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