Au revoir les enfants
Au revoir les enfants tells a heartbreaking story of friendship and devastating loss concerning two boys living in Nazi-occupied France. At a provincial Catholic boarding school, the precocious youths enjoy true camaraderie—until a secret is revealed. Based on events from writer-director Malle’s own childhood, the film is a subtle, precisely observed tale of courage, cowardice, and tragic awakening.
Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants comes to Blu-ray from Criterion and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer.
Criterion’s previous DVD looked pretty stellar and the Blu-ray improves upon it all the typical ways: It’s much sharper, presents far more fine details, has fewer-to-no visible compression artifacts, and just generally looks more like a film. Film grain is present and a little heavy here and there but it remains natural.
Colours probably offer the sharpest improvement and are the biggest surprise since the film has a generally dark look with a drab colour scheme. They look sharpest during sequences out in the woods, where greens almost pop off screen, coming off a tad more vivid in comparison to the DVD’s presentation. Even the browns, grays, and blues all come off stronger. Blacks are deep and for the most part look pure and deep, with only a few moments where they can look washed out a bit.
The print is also in excellent condition and only presents a few minor blemishes. In all the presentation, from the restoration to the digital transfer, is stellar.
The lossless linear PCM mono track comes off much stronger than I expected but in the end is still a fairly average mono track. It presents clear, articulate dialogue, some subtle effects, and sounds clear, free of distortion.
The previous DVD edition technically had nothing in the way of features other than theatrical trailers and a booklet. It was also available in a box set (accompanying Murmur of the Heart and Lacombe, Lucien) which came with a disc loaded with supplements. Most of the supplements from that disc, only available in the box set previously, have made it over to this Blu-ray, though not everything on that disc, primarily limited to anything involving Au revoir les enfants.
First is a fairly informative 31-minute interview with Malle biographer Pierre Billard (in French with English subtitles,) who discusses Malle’s early film career, concentrating primarily on Malle’s documentaries and French work with special mention of the films that were in the original DVD box set (again Murmur of the Heart, Lacombe, Lucien, and Au revoir les enfants) and he also touches on elements from his personal life that appear in his work. It’s an engrossing interview and offers an excellent primer on Malle’s work but it’s disappointing that there’s not much on his American work.
Following this is an interview with Malle’s widow, actress Candice Bergen. For 13-minutes she talks about Malle on more of personal level, while also covering his work with special attention to Au revoir les enfants and the childhood experience that influenced the film. While the film would win many César awards, Malle actually did get excited about the possibility of winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and was upset when the film ultimately lost. Mixed in with some footage from the set of Au revoir les enfants, it’s a nice interview and I’m glad Bergen sat down for it.
The next feature is an odd one in that it’s fairly interesting though ultimately doesn’t offer anything truly surprising. Called Joseph: A Character Study it presents a 5-minute analysis of one of the key background characters in the film (and I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film.) It’s a good analysis of the character and the time period in France, but I can’t say it offered anything truly surprising or anything most won’t have already picked up from the film.
The coolest feature on here would probably be the inclusion of Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant, which appears in Au revoir les enfants. While it’s a fun film and I’m pleased Criterion included it here (as they did in the Malle DVD box set) I was disappointed that the film doesn’t appear to have received a new transfer; it looks like this is simply just an upscaled version of the standard-definition presentation found on the original DVD. The film (with opening notes and additional credits) runs about 25-minutes.
The final large supplement is a 53-minute audio only feature presenting a Q&A session with Louis Malle at AFI, recorded in 1988. Divided into 8 chapters, Malle talks about a wide range of topics including the controversy around Lacombe, Lucien, the writing of Murmur of the Heart, and the real life experience that inspired Au revoir les enfants. Most of the interview is on filmmaking in general, making comparisons between French and American film crews, working with non-professional actors, and the writing process in general. Though Malle speaks in English I wish subtitles were an option since the quality of the audio can be a little rough. A nice inclusion and worth listening to for those interested by Malle’s process.
The disc then closes with a teaser trailer and theatrical trailer, the same ones found on the original DVD.
The booklet also appears to have the same two essays found in the DVD booklet. First is an essay on the film by Philip Kemp followed by a Francis J. Murphy on Père Jacques and the Petit-Collège d’Avon, the school and its headmaster from Malle’s youth that served as inspiration for the film.
Other items found in the supplements of the DVD box set that are missing here are two television programs which offered looks at Murmur of the Heart and Lacombe, Lucien, and then more audio interviews with Malle. I’m assuming these will be saved for eventual/hopeful releases of the other two films in the set on Blu-ray.
Disappointed with a couple aspects of the supplements (primarily the fact that The Immigrant is pretty much an upscaled standard-def transfer) but overall they’re of good quality and worth going through.
Decent supplements, all of which were previously available in the DVD box set, but the transfer offers a rather remarkable upgrade over its DVD counterpart. I’m incredibly disappointed Criterion opted to not release all three of the films in the box set on Blu-ray at the same time (possibly as a box set itself) but for those fond of the film and who already own the previous DVD they will find the upgrade worthwhile just for the transfer.