In this 1974 Louis Malle film set during the waning days of WWII, a young man living in German-occupied France spends his days working as a menial in a nursing home and on his familys farm. His father has been arrested and the man whos staying with his mother treats him badly. More to escape his dreary life than out of patriotism, he tries to join the Resistance, but the leader a schoolteacher who doubts the boys motives doesnt think hes qualified.
One evening, while returning to the nursing home to retrieve something, the boy happens upon a brightly lit hotel that, unknown to him, is the local Gestapo headquarters.
This is how the rather dense and inarticulate Lucien Lacombe (Pierre Blaise) drifts into a sinister occupation and finds himself at home. There are no untapped reserves of evil in the mopey farm boy; rather, working with the Nazis offers him, for the first time in his life, a feeling of empowerment. He relishes his newfound control and ability to evoke fear. He hurts people not because of some ideological commitment, but because its a part of a new exciting game he can play. Therefore when Lucien falls in love with a Jewish girl, he neither knows nor cares about the implications until hes in over his head.
The girl responds to his advances, but her father a sophisticated man whos been reduced to hiding out in a run-down apartment glowers at the boy, while her grandmother ignores him as she sits at a small table playing endless games of solitaire.
Malles approach to Luciens story is a stylistic corollary to his anti-heros stunted personality muted and matter-of-fact. Lucien seems to lack the ability to empathize with others, but his desires and needs, his hurts and resentments, are recognizably normal.
Everybody has their reasons, good or bad, and this subtle film is a case study (hence the officious-sounding title) of childishness and opportunity leading to cruelty. By the end of the film, were left with mixed emotions; Luciens fate may be legally just, but it also seems, in some universal sense, grossly unfair.
In French with English subtitles. 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 23, at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237).
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at [email protected].
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.