LEARNING GUIDE TO:
AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS
(in French with English subtitles)
SUBJECTS — World/France and WWII (Holocaust);
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Coming of Age, Human Rights, Friendship;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness, Responsibility; Caring.
Age: 11+; MPAA Rating -- PG; Drama; 1987; 104 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Description: It is 1944 in Nazi occupied France. Julien, age 12, has been sent to a boarding school run by an order of the Catholic Church. At the beginning of the semester three new boys come to the school and he befriends one of them. When the Gestapo arrives looking for Jewish children being hidden from the Nazis Julien is suddenly forced into a world beyond his childhood innocence.
The film is derived from an incident that occurred when the writer/director, Louis Malle (1932-2005), was a child in boarding school in Nazi occupied France.
Benefits of the Movie: "Au Revoir Les Enfants" is an excellent coming of age film. It contrasts true growth (that comes from confrontation with real events) with the artificial means that adolescent boys use to appear "grown up" (smoking, making disparaging remarks about what are described as pictures of naked women, swearing). The movie shows several aspects of the German occupation of France during WWII and of the Holocaust. It demonstrates that in tight situations, one innocent automatic reaction can lead to disaster. This film also raises interesting ethical issues concerning punishment for infractions and collaboration with the enemy during war.
Possible Problems: MINOR. This film contains some mild profanity. The smoking and other actions by the children to appear more sophisticated (see above) are shown as a shallow and not particularly attractive.
Parenting Points: Before watching the movie, tell your children that what is shown in the film actually occurred. After the movie is over, tell your children that the writer/director of the movie, Louis Malle, was Julien, the boy whose inadvertent glance led to a classmate being sent to a concentration camp. This movie is Mr. Malle's effort to expiate that mistake. Ask whether they condemn Julien for what he did. [They shouldn't. It was an accident. All of the children were victims. The evil people in this incident were the Nazis.] Ask why the director of the film spends so much time on the other boys smoking and looking at pictures of naked women. [He is doing this to contrast the false symbols of maturity that are affected by many young people with growth caused by experience.]
Selected Awards, Cast and Director:
Featured Actors: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette, Stanislas Carré de Malberg, Philippe Morier-Genoud, François Berléand, and François Négret.
Director: Louis Malle.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION: What do you expect to be the event or type of event which will require that you confront the real world? [Examples from our society are: going to college, getting a job, joining the military, getting married.] How are you preparing for it? How do your expectations of what will happen to you differ from what happened to Julien and to Jean?
Suggested Response: The point of this question is to get children to look at their own lives objectively. Knowing that they have challenges coming may get them thinking about preparing to meet them. In addition, they will realize that their life (hopefully) has little of the danger and life and death decisions that faced Julien and Jean.
See Learning Guide to "Schindler's List" for historical background for the Holocaust.
"Au Revoir Les Enfants" means "Goodbye Children." There are a number of ways in which the phrase applies to this film. It refers to Julien's awakening from childhood and his loss of innocence. It is a farewell to Jean Kipplestein and the other children who were taken to the concentration camps. It refers to the various events in the film through which some of the boys try to attain maturity by mimicking the habits and appearance of adults. The phrase reminds us of Father Jean's final words in the film.
The role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust was mixed. At the top, the Vatican failed to protest the mass murder of Jews and other opponents of the Nazis, while it planned to take advantage of the expected German conquest of Russia to seek converts and spread its influence. However, in the areas occupied by Germany many individual Catholic priests, monks and nuns protected Jews and others fleeing from the Nazis. Some, like Father Jean, lost their lives as a result.
An elderly American veteran who participated in the liberation of Paris in 1944 told us this story. Not all French Jews had been taken to the concentration camps by the time France was freed from German control. Some still lived in dire conditions in special areas in Paris. The Allied Armies advanced on Paris so rapidly that they surprised an SS group at their headquarters in one of the Jewish areas. The GIs were horrified to find prison cells in the basement filled with the bodies of Jews recently murdered by the SS. After the GIs had secured the building, there was a report that the captured SS were offering resistance. The GIs, still enraged by what they had found in the basement, killed all of the SS personnel present. See Discussion Question #10.
Later, in a separate incident, two Jewish GIs were approached by Jewish Parisians who asked them whether the Americans wanted Jews to wear the six pointed yellow stars that the Germans had required all Jews to sew onto their clothing. The GIs were speechless and reacted by ripping the stars off the clothing of the Parisians and pinning them to their own uniforms.
WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes; and
Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
BUILDING VOCABULARY: Holocaust, concentration camp; Gestapo, collaborator; "black market."
1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
2. Mr. Malle wrote that when he first became a filmmaker he wanted to make a movie about this incident. But he waited, and while he waited, the memory became more acute. Can you explain how writing the screenplay and making the film are related to his feelings about the incident? Suggested Response: Talking, writing, or making a movie about a traumatic incident helps people reconcile themselves to what happened. It is also a way to apologize to the child that suffered because of Malle's mistake. It is a way to confer some immortality on the child and, in some small way, help keep others from making the same mistake as Malle did as a young boy. If someone has made a similar mistake it helps them understand that they are not alone.
3. Joseph, the kitchen helper, who gave information to the Gestapo that resulted in the raid on the school, had been dismissed by Father Jean for stealing food and for trading with the students. The students were punished for exchanging food for cigarettes and stamps. Both of these activities deprived students at the school of needed food. Did the punishments meted out by Father Jean fit the various infractions? What are the differences in the situations? Is your answer affected by the fact that dismissing Joseph ultimately led to the exposure and death of the Jewish children and of Father Jean himself? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer. Dismissing Joseph for this one infraction may seem harsh, but the times were harsh. There wasn't a lot of food around and Father Jean was charged with the moral upbringing of the students. Father Jean should have considered the risk that Joseph would turn informer.
4. When and where did the action of this film take place? What was happening in that part of the world at that time? Suggested Response: The movie took place during the Second World War in a part of France that was occupied by the German army. During the Second World War, Germany was controlled by the Nazis who were intent on exterminating certain groups of people such as Jews, Gypsies, the handicapped, and homosexuals.
5. What would Jean Bonnet's real name have revealed about his identity? Why did he want to conceal his true identity? Suggested Response: Jean's real name (Kippelstein) would have identified him as being Jewish and he would have been sent to the concentration camps.
6. Contrast Julien's circumstances with those of Jean Kipplestein, called Jean Bonnet through most of the film. Suggested Response: Julien was not Jewish and was not at risk of being taken to a concentration camp and killed because of his religion.
7. What were the items traded in the petty black market at the school? For each, describe why it was valuable. Suggested Response: The items included cigarettes, food from home, and pictures of naked women. They were valuable because they were scarce. The cigarettes were also prized because smoking was seen as an adult activity and the young boys in the school wanted to appear to be grown up. In addition, once the boys became addicted to nicotine, the cigarettes were a source of the drug to feed their addiction. The pictures were also seen as marks of maturity. They were also attractive because they were forbidden.
Select questions that are appropriate for your students.
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OTHER LESSON PLANS: Comparison/Contrast Assignment between Lord of the Flies and Au Revoir Les Enfants by Jason S. Lambert who teaches British Lit, freshman English and Writing Workshop at Windsor Locks High School in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.
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Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:
COMING OF AGE
1. The real Julien, the writer/director Louis Malle, has written that it was on this day that he was launched on the path that led him to being a film director. Can you explain this statement? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question but it is a very interesting comment. Perhaps, Mr. Malle was saying that his life as a director was just a lead-up to making this film to expiate his guilt for "the look". Or, he could be saying that this episode jump-started his passage to maturity in which he was destined to become a film director. Or, he could be saying that the pain that this incident gave him the insight and sensitivity that allowed him to become a good film director.
2. The writer/director Louis Malle has written that this incident introduced him to the real world, "its violence, its disorder, its prejudices." In light of this statement, what is Mr. Malle's purpose in showing the boys smoking cigarettes and making disparaging remarks about many things such as the photographs of women, Joseph's relationship with a girl, etc. Compare this to what happened to Jean and to Julien and describe what this film tells us about the process of growing up. Suggested Response: It contrasts real maturity with false maturity. This film tells us that growing up is something more than smoking cigarettes, looking at pictures of naked girls, and talking disparagingly about others. It is life and death, friendship and betrayal (even if that betrayal was inadvertent).
3. Do you know, from stories told by your family or from what you have observed, any incidents or situations that suddenly wrenched someone out of their state of childhood innocence? Compare these situations (or the absence of them) to the circumstances faced by Julien and by Jean that forced them to confront reality. Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. Generally, it is better for the person if they are allowed to mature on their own schedule and without the impetus of a traumatic experience.
4. What actions do you take, such as smoking, experimenting with drugs, dressing in a certain way, or affecting certain attitudes to make yourself appear more grown-up? What actions can you take to help yourself really grow up? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question except that to really grow up you need to expose yourself to different situations that will stretch your abilities and maturity. Remember, however, that these situations need to be safe.
5. List the ways in which the concept of "Goodbye Children" applies to the events and themes in this film? Suggested Response: Some of the ways are listed in the Helpful Background Section.
6. Have you done or experienced something good or bad that has affected your life? If you would like, talk about it. Or tell us about a similar experience of another person that you know about. Compare these experiences to what Julien did that morning in 1944 when he glanced at his friend, Kipplestein (Bonnet). What effect, if any, did the incident have upon you or the person who experienced it as a maturing human being?
7. At the beginning of the film, Julien was a child. What devices does the screen writer/director use to tell us this?
8. How do the events in this story reveal the different ways in which the French reacted to the German occupation of their country? Suggested Response: Some Frenchmen, like Father Jean, resisted the Germans in one way or another. Father Jean resisted by hiding Jewish children that the Germans wanted to kill. Other Frenchmen, like Joseph, collaborated with the German occupiers, did their bidding, and informed on their fellow countrymen who resisted the Occupation. Others tried to stay neutral.
9. Some of the Frenchmen in the film had accepted the German occupation and were collaborating with the Nazis. Others, like Father Jean and the monks at the school were in secret resistance. After the Allies liberated France in 1944, many Frenchmen who had collaborated with the Germans were prosecuted or, at least, ostracized. Compare the situation of the Germans and Japanese who cooperated with the Allies after 1945. They were never prosecuted by their countrymen. Can you tell us what the difference is? Suggested Response: This is very complicated. To a great extent, whether cooperation with the occupiers is considered "collaboration with the enemy" depends upon whether the occupiers are ultimately victorious. In the case of Germany and Japan, the Allies have shown the people of the conquered nations that democracy and economic competition are better than dictatorship and war. Other interesting examples for discussion are: (1) The Saxons who cooperated with the Normans in Britain after 1066; collaboration with the Normans produced the English people. (2) The peoples who were Hellenized in the wake of conquests by Alexander the Great. (3) The barbarians who were civilized through the conquests of Rome.
10. Read the experience of the American GIs in Paris and the killing of the SS men set out in the Helpful Background Section of this Learning Guide. Assume that not all the SS men had to be killed to quell the resistance they were offering and that they were all killed because the GIs were angry about the murder of the Jews whose bodies had been found in the basement. Should all of the SS men have been killed? How is this situation similar to or different than the story of The Oxbow Incident? What if one of the SS men had not been present at the building when the Jews had been killed, but had arrived just before the GIs? What if the SS men responsible for the killings had left the building just before the GIs arrived and had evaded capture? Were the GIs practicing "guilt by association"? Was membership in the SS and presence in a building with the bodies of freshly murdered people sufficient to justify execution without a trial? Finally, did the American GIs commit a crime by killing the SS men to vent their anger at the murder of the Jews? Suggested Response: The GIs did not have the right to kill anyone without a trial unless that person was threatening them. They should not have killed the SS men except as necessary to protect themselves and quell the resistance. Anything more than that was murder and a war crime.
11. Describe the process by which Julien and Jean Kipplestein (Bonnet) became friends. What was the basis of their friendship?
12. In the film, what events cement the friendship between Julien and Jean?
Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.
Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more . . . Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.
MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: See the World/France and the World/WWII Sections of the Subject Matter Index See also "Paper Clips" a film about how a school in one small Southern town in the U.S. studied the holocaust and how it transformed the teachers and the students.
Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)
1. Notice that the Germans are not presented as complete villains in this film. For example, they are shown as being gentle with the children and the German officer at the restaurant orders the French militia to leave the old Jewish gentleman alone. However, Frenchmen who cooperated with the Germans are always characterized as villains. But were the collaborators really worse than the occupiers? How does the ethical principle of loyalty and standing by your family, friends and country relate to the manner in which collaborators were depicted in this film? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question. It also depends upon what each person, each German occupier and each French collaborator actually did. It is clear, however, the Malle is angrier at the collaborators who betrayed their own than the Germans who were in France under orders from their superiors.
2. Joseph stole food from the school. Who would have eaten this food had he not stolen it? What were the consequences to the students of what Joseph did? Suggested Response: The students would have eaten the food and they needed it. The consequences to the students were that they did not have sufficient nourishment during an important period of growth.
3. After the war, what should have happened to Joseph, the informer, and to the Germans who took the children out of the school and arrested Father Jean? Answer separately for Joseph, the Gestapo official who led the raid, and the German soldiers (who undoubtedly would claim that they were "just carrying out orders"). Suggested Response: Each one of them engaged in criminal conduct, however, there is no one correct response as to whether or how much they should be punished. For the Germans, to one degree or another, their actions were compelled by their country's law as well as by their obligations as members of the Gestapo and as soldiers. For example, individual soldiers were usually not punished for following orders, whereas officers might be prosecuted, depending on what they did and how they did it. Joseph was not compelled to do what he did, and so the French would have punished him. However, he only informed, he didn't seize the children nor did he kill them. Therefore, his punishment would have been less than those who seized the children and sent them to a concentration camp and to their deaths.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
4. The rules required that the students share food sent from home with the other students. However, some students traded this food with Joseph for cigarettes and postcards. Did their actions in breaking the rules have consequences for other students at the school? What were they? If there had not been a shortage of food, would the students have been justified in breaking this rule? Suggested Response: The consequences of not sharing food were that the food available for all of the students was not sufficient for normal growth. As to the last question, there is no one correct answer. As a general matter, rules should be obeyed. If you disagree with them you should go to someone in authority and try to change the rules.
5. Did Joseph take responsibility for his actions in stealing and trading with the students? What was his response to being punished for these actions? If Joseph had taken responsibility for his actions, how would the lives of various people at the school have changed? Suggested Response: Joseph didn't take responsibility. Instead, he struck back at Father Jean and, in the process, some of the students and priests were taken to concentration camps.
6. Julien unintentionally gave his friend Kipplestein (Bonnet) away by glancing at him. To what extent was Julien responsible for Jean Kipplestein's death? Suggested Response: Julien is not responsible at all. He had no intention to hurt Jean or to give him away. It was the Nazis who killed Jean. However, because he set the process in motion by his inadvertent glance, Julien felt guilty about what happened to Jean.
7. In the film, did Julien take responsibility for his actions in unintentionally giving his friend Kipplestein (Bonnet) away? In real life, did Louis Malle take responsibility for what he did back in 1944? If you think he did, tell us how he did it. What are the different ways that people can take responsibility for their actions? Suggested Response: The character Julien tried to help Jean and put himself at risk to do this. However, there was little that he could really do for Jean. Malle took responsibility by acknowledging his role in Jean's death and then by making the film.
8. Were Father Jean and the other priests who cooperated with him heroes or were they simply fulfilling their responsibilities as human beings? Would they have been doing something morally wrong if they had refused to take in Jewish children, an act which put their lives and the continued existence of the school at risk? Suggested Response: Sometimes just refusing to do something wrong is heroic, for example, when it could cost you your freedom or your life. Father Jean and the priests were heroes. They could have justified refusing to take Jewish children based on their responsibilities to the school and the other children in the school.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
9. Jean Kipplestein (Bonnet) forgave Julien for inadvertently betraying him. Should Kipplestein have done this? Should Julien have forgiven himself? Suggested Response: The answer to both question is "yes". Julien's look that gave Jean away was not intentional.
10. Father Jean risked his own life and the continued existence of the school to try to save the three Jewish children. Was this the right thing to do? What conflicting values would have to be reconciled to make this decision? Suggested Response: It was the right thing to do because the children would have died without the safety of the school The fact that Father Jean was not successful and the boys were caught makes no difference in the analysis. The question is one of risk. The competing values were that it was Father Jean's responsibility to keep the school open and not to endanger the other children.
11. Can the crimes such as those committed by the Nazis against the people they murdered and placed into concentration camps be forgiven? What are the limits of forgiveness? Suggested Response: There is no one answer to this question. Certainly, low level or even intermediate players, if they seek forgiveness should be forgiven. Often even the leaders should be forgiven, so long as they admit their wrongdoing, apologize, return any ill-gotten gains, and seek forgiveness. Look at the results of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission for an example of the benefits of forgiveness.
(Additional questions on this topic are set out in the "Social-Emotional Learning/Friendship" section above.)
Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.
Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
Bridges to Reading: See Learning Guide to "Schindler's List".
Assignments, Projects and Activities: Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction
Bibliography: In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
Last updated September 22, 2011.
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