March 29th, 2021

Lacombe Lucien

A 17 year old boy is searching for his identity. There are two gangs in town. He asks to join the cooler of the two and they turn him down, so he accepts an offer from the other. He acquires smart clothes and a gun and uses them to get a girl and lever himself into her family. Only it's not quite that straightforward. This is Vichy France; the gang that rejects him is the Maquis, the one that accepts him is the Gestapo and the family he insinuates himself into is Jewish. Furthermore the year is 1944 and he has attached himself to the losing side.

Lucien has no inner life that we have access to- and no understanding of the awkwardness of his situation. He is played by Pierre Blaise- a non-actor who gives, simply by being a version of himself, a compelling but inscrutable performance. Blaise made two more films in quick succession on the back of Lacombe Lucien, bought himself a fast car with the proceeds, ran it into a tree and died.

The BFI has handed me a set of films by Louis Malle and I'm working my way through them. The first was Lift to the Scaffold- a neat and stylish policier- and this is the second. Malle is the film-maker as anthropologist; he observes, he takes notes, he keeps his distance. Movies rarely unsettle me as much as this one did.