mardi 29 novembre 2011

Lacombe, Lucien by Vincent Canby

Article publié par le "New York Times" le 30 septembre 1974

Lacombe, Lucien, the title of Louis Malle's fine, uncompromising new film, is a statistic, a name on a list, someone unknown, without identity. Which is pretty much the way Lucien Lacombe, aged seventeen, sees himself in June 1944.

Lucien (Pierre Blaise) is a strong, square-jawed, none-too-bright country boy living in southwest France during the Nazi occupation. He scrubs floors in the hospital of a small provincial city and makes occasional visits to his home, a farm now run by the landlord who has become his mother's lover while his father is a prisoner of war.

Lucien is a hunter, usually by necessity and now and then for sport. He shoots rabbits and wrings the necks of chickens, which are food for the dinner table, but sometimes he can't resist going after a yellow warbler with his slingshot. The bird means nothing to him. Proving the excellence of his aim does.

In Lacombe, Lucien, Mr. Malle asks us to contemplate Lucien as he chooses, it seems accidentally, his course toward destruction. After being turned down for membership in the Underground in his native village because he's too young, Lucien more or less slips into total collaboration with the French arm of the German police, the only club that will accept him, at just that point in history when it's apparent to even the densest minds that the Germans are beaten.

The film, which was shown at Alice Tully Hall on Saturday and Sunday evenings, will open in a theater here in mid-October.
Lacombe, Lucien is Mr. Malle's toughest, most rueful, least sentimental film. Like the extraordinary Marcel Ophuls documentary, The Sorrow and the Pity, the film refuses to identify heroes and villains with certainty. That, Mr. Malle seems to say, is to oversimplify issues and to underrate the complexity of the human experience.

Mr. Malle is adamant on these points. It's very difficult for anyone of my (World War II) generation to understand a collaborationist, which the director-writer underscores by allowing Lucien scarcely any saving graces. When hunting rabbits, he has the impassive face of a killer. Once taken into the police force, he becomes as impossibly arrogant as only the ignorant can be. He coolly witnesses torture procedures as if the system had nothing to do with him.

Instinctively, however, he finds himself attracted to the household of a once-famous, rich Paris tailor, an aristocratic Jew named Albert Horn (Holger Lowenadler), who is in hiding with his ancient mother and pretty daughter, France (Aurore Clément), in Lucien's town.

Armed with a machine gun, his official police passes, and gifts such as confiscated champagne, as well as with a monumental insensitivity, Lucien invites himself into the lives of these refugees. Lucien bullies them, makes a fool of himself, and suddenly falls in love with France.

The difficulty of the task that Mr. Malle has set for himself by focusing on Lucien is manifest in two magnificent scenes that are the highlights of the film. In one, Mr. Horn turns his elegant, exhausted eyes on Lucien and warns that he doesn't need Lucien to make him appreciate his daughter. "We're both fragile," he says. In the other scene, France clings to Lucien, who doesn't come up to her instep in any way, and damns the fact of being a Jew. Her degradation is complete.

A more sentimental director would, I'm sure, have made this film the story of the Horns. They are marvelous, gallant creatures, and both Mr. Lowenadler and Miss Clément are superb.

By fixing the sights of the film on Lucien, Mr. Malle and Patrick Modiano, who worked with him on the screenplay, force us to considerations of more agonizing import. We never know how Lucien got that way, only that the times made possible his short, disastrous season in the sun. With the liberation, Lucien once again becomes a statistic.
Lacombe, Lucien is easily Mr. Malle's most ambitious, most provocative film, and if it is not as immediately affecting as The Fire Within or even the comic Murmur of the Heart, it's because—to make his point—he has centered it on a character who must remain forever mysterious, forever beyond our sympathy.

Produced and directed by Louis Malle; written (in French, with English subtitles) by Mr. Malle and Patrick Modiano; director of photography, Tonino Delli Colli; edited by Suzanne Baron; music by Django Reinhardt, Andre Claveau, and Irene de Trebert; art designer, Ghislain Uhry; released by Twentieth Century Fox. Running time: 141 minutes

Source : New York Times

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