Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987): Louis Malle’s Personal Film, Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Language

One of Louis Malle’s most personal films, Au Revoir Les Enfants (“Goodbye, Children”) draws on the memories of his childhood during WWII.

Au revoir les enfants
Goodbye, children film.jpg

Film poster

Set in 1944, during the German Occupation of France, the tale centers on Julien (Gaspard Manesse), a privileged precocious teenager.

Sent away to a provincial Catholic boarding school, Julien excels—until the arrival of Bonnet (Raphael Fejto), a cultured boy who’s mysterious about his background.  At first Julian hopes to expose and humiliate his rival, but their common interests lead to an uneasy friendship.  Then Bonnet’s secret (he’s Jewish) is revealed; he has been hiding from the Gestapo with the help of schoolmaster, Father Jean.

Some critics noted that the movie is a product of guilt, motivated by Malle’s feelings of regret.

This 1987 film, made after a number of American pictures, such as the 1981 Oscar-nominated “Atlantic City” (1981), is the third part of a trilogy that began with “Murmur of the Heart” (1971), an incestuous comedy of manners, and continued with “Lacombe Lucien” (1974).

All three are coming of age tales about maturation that takes place during times of war or political unrest, and each one deals with moral choices children need to take and the consequences they bear for their decisions.  The choices are inevitably compromised, as products of social, political, familial, and peer pressures.

Like Truffaut’s youth films (the seminal “The 400 Blows”), “Au Revoir, les Enfants” rejects the notions of naivete and innocence as describing youths and refuses to romanticize what is clearly a more painful era than depicted in Hollywood movies, past or present.

Running time: 104 Minutes

Orion Classic (NEF, Paris)

Oscar Nominations: 2

Foreign-Language Film

Screenplay (Original):  Louis Malle

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

“Au Revoir Les Enfants” competed for the Best-Foreign Language Film with Babette’s Feast (Denmark), which won, Course Completed (Spain), The Family (Italy), and Pathfinder (Norway).

The winner of the Original Screenplay was the comedy “Moonstruck,” penned by John Patrick Shanley.


Produced, directed, written by Louis Malle
Cinematography Renato Berta
Edited by Emmanuelle Castro
Music by Schubert, Saint-Saëns
Distributed by MK2 Diffusion (France)

Release date: August 29, 1987 (Venice); October 7, 1987 (France)

Running time: 104 minutes
Box office $4.5 million