Lacombe, Lucien – Louis Malle (1974)

Review by Pauline Kael: “Introducing himself to a delicate, fine-boned parisienne, the farm-boy hero of Louis Malle’s new movie does not give his name as Lucien Lacombe; he gives the bureaucratic designation—Lacombe, Lucien. He presents himself name inverted because he is trying to be formal and proper, as he’s been trained to be at school and at work, sweeping floors at his local, small-town hospital, in southwest France. When he meets the girl, France Horn—and falls in love with her—his new job is hunting down and torturing people for the Gestapo. He likes it a whole lot better than the hospital. The title Lacombe, Lucien refers to the case of a boy of seventeen who doesn’t achieve a fully human identity, a boy who has an empty space where feelings beyond the purely instinctive are expected to be. The time is 1944, after the Normandy landings, and the Nazis and their collaborators won’t be in power long. Lucien doesn’t know that. He had tried to join the Resistance, but the local Resistance leader was his old schoolmaster, who thought him stupid, and Lucien stumbled into a job with the Nazis. Actually, he isn’t stupid; he has the kinds of talents that don’t show at school—he has a country boy’s skills, and he knows how to survive in the wild. The schoolmaster is right, though, in perceiving that Lucien is apolitical and unprincipled—that he just wants some action. Lucien is good to his mother, and in normal circumstances he would work on a farm, taking care of his own and not bothering anybody, and he’d probably be a respected, unconscionably practical member of the community. But in wartime, he’s a perfect candidate for Nazi bullyboy. Malle’s film is a long, close look at the banality of evil; it is—not incidentally—one of the least banal movies ever made. … The magic is in the intense curiosity and intelligence behind the film—in Malle’s perception that the answers to our questions about how people with no interest in politics become active participants in brutal torture are to be found in Lucien’s plump-cheeked, narrow-eyed face, and that showing us what this boy doesn’t react to can be the most telling of all. …”
New Yorker, September 30, 1974
senses of cinema – The Evil That Boys Do: Louis Malle’s Lacombe, Lucien
tv tropes
YouTube: Criterion Trailer 329: Lacombe, Lucien

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