Lacombe, Lucien (1974): Louis Malle’s Oscar-Nominated Film about Life in Occupied France

Louis Malle’s Oscar nominated film about the German occupation of France, Lacombe, Lucien, is based on his own experiences during that time, when he was a teenager of 11 years (Malle was born in 1932).

Lacombe Lucien

Theatrical poster



It’s a subject that he would revisit in another masterful film, Au Revoir, les Enfants in 1987, which was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

As written by Malle and Patrick Modiano, the tale centers on a young farm boy (played by Pierre Blaise), only 17, who wants to join the Resistance but is rejected by them because of his age.

As a result, he joins the Gestapo, and informs on his former teacher.  The French office finds him useful, and treats him with honor and respect, supplying free liquor and fulfilling other needs.

Among Lucien’s duties is the supervision of Jewish homes. Unfortunately, he then falls in love with a Jewish girl named France Horn (Aurore Clement), who lives with her father and paternal grandmother. After her father’s deportation. Lucien then sets out to Spain in an effort to save France and her grandmother from execution.

Under pressure, he finds himself a target of both the Resistance and the Gestapo, and in the end, we are informed by a title card that he was tried and executed by the Resistance as a collaborator.

Holger Löwenadler, the Swedish Actor who had appeared in some Ingmar Bergman movies, won the Best Supporting Actor Award from the National Society of Film Critics for playing France’s father, a Jewish tailor who give up hope and surrenders himself.

Malle’s coolly detached perspective on the subject, moral ambiguity, and criticism of the much admired French Resistance, made the picture controversial in France, though it was a huge commercial success in the U.S.

Rumor has it, that the reception to “Lacombe Lucien” was a major factor in Malle’s emigrating to Hollywood in the late 1970s and making English-speaking films there until his untimely death, in 1995, at the age of 62.

His American films include “Pretty Baby” and the Oscar-nominated “Atlantic City,” both starring Susan Sarandon, his real-life companion at the time.

Running time: 138 Minutes

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Foreign Language Film

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

The Best Foreign Language winner was the Italian entry, “Amarcord,” directed by Fellini, in a contest that included “Cats Play” from Hungary, “The Deluge” from Poland, and “The Truce,” from Argentina.


Directed, produced by Louis Malle
Screenplay by Louis Malle, Patrick Modiano
Produced by Malle, Claude Nedjar
Cinematography Tonino Delli Colli
Edited by Suzanne Baron
Music by Django Reinhardt

Production companies: Nouvelles Éditions de Films; Universal Pictures France

Distributed by Cinema International Corporation (France, original); 20th Century Fox (1975, worldwide)

Release date: January 30, 1974 (France)

Running time: 138 minutes
Box office: $13.1 million