It might be said it was the wider lesson in sacrifice and pathetic selfishness, along with what he saw that morning, that so haunted the director. In the film, kitchen porter Joseph (François Négret), who is routinely bullied and hectored by the rich kids, is caught stealing school resources to sell on the black market. His subsequent dismissal leads to dire consequences. Rounded up by German soldiers, the class-mates say their farewells, while not entirely understanding what is going on. "Goodbye, children. See you soon," Father Jean says, stopping to take one last look at them. Jean and Julien also share one final glance.
And then, he is gone forever. The half-open gate, an empty frame, is fixed upon briefly before cutting back to Julien. The look of bewilderment etched on Julien's face and the formation of tears in his eyes detail an exact point in which a cosseted upbringing and the paradise of childhood is destroyed absolutely by the adult world. The camera keeps Julien in medium-shot, while slowly zooming in. But Malle foregoes the temptation to end the film with a close-up. The shot – and its raw power – recalls David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), when Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) listens to John Merrick (John Hurt) reciting the Lord's Prayer. Malle, in voiceover, tells us the boys died at Auschwitz and the headmaster, at Mauthausen. He pledges never to forget what happened that morning until the day he dies.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn