Sunday, January 21, 2007
The novel and film are based on an event in the childhood of the author and director, Louis Malle, who at age 12, was attending a Carmelite boarding school near Fontainebleau. The story features a young boy named Julien Quentin, who attends a Catholic boarding school in Vichy France during World War II. In the winter of 1944 in occupied France, Julien, the son of a middle-class family in the north of France, is boarding at the Sainte-Croix College (a junior high school/high school of sorts). Julien returns from Christmas break sad to be returning to the doldrums of school. Resuming class seems uneventful until Father Jean, the head master of this Catholic school presents three new pupils. One of them, Jean Bonnet, is in the same grade and dormitory neighbor of Julien. Julien is intrigued by Bonnet who is a mysterious boy rejected by the whole of the class.
After a while, they bond and a friendship is created between them. One night Julien wakes up and discovers that Bonnet is wearing a kippa and is speaking in a language he cannot understand (Hebrew). Julien ends up understanding the secrecy of his new friend who in fact is Jewish and whose name is not Bonnet, but Kippelstein. Father Jean had agreed, as many religious groups had during the war, to give shelter and a new identity to persecuted Jews. With the allies making progress, perhaps Bonnet will in fact survive this war. But on a cold morning in January 1944, the Gestapo arrives at the small school armed with information from the school's kitchen hand, Joseph, that the school has given shelter to Jews. When the Gestapo officer visits his classroom, Julien unintentionally gives away Jean Bonnet. Father Jean and the three Jewish children, including Jean Bonnet, are taken away. The children are all later executed at Auschwitz concentration camp.