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- Published on Amazon.com
Having already reviewed these three films individually (all five star reviews and easily make the top ten's in their respective years), I decided to go ahead and review this collection since it really is a must have set for any serious cinephile and any fan of Malle himself, who struck gold three times over with these brilliant films.
From what I've seen, these are his top tier masterpieces.
Collectively, the beauty of Malle's work here is that he underlines key moments in the life of a child, corralling behind their personal perspective of events that finely sharpen their individual growth. From their sexual curiosity to their personal integrity and nationalistic pride and their own tolerance and social understanding; Malle brilliantly layers his protagonists (and their surrounding comrades) with a natural jus of raw and real complexities. While the moral passions in play within these films are of the utmost precision, Malle never once fails to complete the package with raw and moving performances as well as stirring sets and cinematography that captures the audience and holds them steady within the frames.
These films are expertly made.
So, I've decided to break these down and submit snippets from my full reviews of each film. If you go to their individual pages you can see in further detail why I adore these films, but for the sake of space I'm just going to give brief rundowns to the films provided within this collection.
`Le Souffle au Coeur' (Murmur of the Heart):
Easily my favorite of the three, `Le Souffle au Coeur' is a wildly entertaining look at adolescence from the eyes of fifteen-year-old virgin Laurent Chevalier. Growing up in 1950's France, Laurent is your typical teenager. His older brothers are flamboyant playboys who talk of their exploits and teasing their younger brother. Laurent's father is uninterested in him entirely, and his mother Clara is maybe overly interested; doing her best to compensate. Laurent drinks and smokes and pursues relations (not relationships) with other girls hoping to walk into adulthood. When a bout of scarlet fever sends him to the spa he finds himself reaching at the opportunity to lose his virginity. What I admire about this film is that it takes a very realistic approach to the teenager's idea of sex. There is no over dramatization here or forced tragedy, but everything is seen through the eyes of the naïve and inexperienced. This way the film can grace the stages of adolescence with an almost fearlessness, giving everything the light appeal of a children's story. As Laurent explores his own sexuality we are never offended or put off or even really concerned (although it is apparent that we should be somewhat concerned) because through the eyes of a child this is something grand and exciting. Sure, it's scary and nerve-racking, but in the end it is yet another experience that brings you closer to adulthood.
Still a stunning example of filmmaking, this is my least favorite of the three (and the only film here that doesn't make my top five in their respective year, although it is easily in the top ten). The film takes place during the summer of 1944 in a small town in France. A young teen named Lucien attempts to join the resistance but is rejected due to his age. Feeling betrayed and embittered Lucien makes a grave choice; to turn his back on his friends and join the Gestapo. Never fully understanding the weight of his decisions, Lucien lives his new life like it were a right, taking what he feels he deserves and holding his power over the heads of those in his way. He forms a relationship of sorts with a Jewish tailor and his beautiful daughter, whom Lucien takes a liking to. His morals are conflicted by his new situation, and his choices thereafter cause a huge rift in his life. The script is brilliantly written. It flows masterfully, complete with a beautiful rise and fall that keeps us glued to the seat. One is left with many questions to ask about their own feelings and beliefs. Free choice is a gift that one's often misuse, but misuse has price, and this film masterfully exposes that reality.
`Au Revoir, les Enfants' (Goodbye, Children):
Heartbreak within subtle tonal shifts is the key to this amazing film experience, and Malle understood that in spades. Without that subtle ambiguity, this film would have been nothing more than a Hollywoodized `message film'. Instead, `Au Revoir, les Enfants' is a total experience. The film follows young Julien Quentin as he befriends a new student, Jean Bonnet. It is apparent right off the bat that Bonnet is not like the other boys, but that doesn't stop Julien from forming a bond with him. As the secrets behind Bonnet's stay at the school are revealed (it isn't too much of a spoiler to reveal that Bonnet is indeed Jewish and he is being hidden at the school by the priests that run it) then the safe haven these boys reside in soon becomes fear inspiring as Jean is being hunted by the French collaborators. The film is a very poignant look, not only at the Nazi rule, but at the impressionable state of our youth. As the boys within the school are conditioned by the world around them, by their parents and their teachers they are forced to find themselves within all the pressure to conform to each and every one else's idea of who they should become. They hate who everyone else hates, they love who everyone else loves and they condone what everyone else condones, but when they take themselves out of their own skin they are given the opportunity to actually choose for themselves who and what they are going to believe. Julien makes that choice, and it is seen on his face as the Gestapo drags away his friend.
For me, what sets these films apart is that they are all socially important films that have stood the tests of time and continue to raise a certain degree of relevance. They are poignant glimpses of the reality within the minds of our youth, and they give us a chance to reflect and grow from experience we may have personally undergone. They are impassioned, they are personal, they are visionary; by most importantly they are relatable.