A film which presents a huge number of fascinating and complex situations which arose during the Second World War, in occupied France, but for political cowardice, stays skimming over the surface. The political activism of the priests who run the school, the elder brother’s desire to join the resistance, the friendship which develops between the two young boys, the cook’s helper who buys and sells on the black market, the presence of German soldiers, the curfews, the middle-class French family that the young boy comes from…
The film follows the friendship which grows between two young boys, one from a nice middle-class family, the other a Jewish boy being hidden in the school by the priests, and portrays everything happening as though viewed through the eyes of a naïve, and non-judgemental child. So far, so good, but when the film begins to stray from this child’s view in order to represent French bravery in the face of the German soldiers, it starts smacking of misplaced self-satisfaction and complete inability to develop a critical perspective.
The only person who really does wrong, denouncing the Jewish boys in hiding, is the stupid, poor, cook’s helper who knows no better and has no other option - a little insulting and over-simplified. Though there is also a scared nun who betrays where the last of the Jewish boys is hiding. The highlight of the film is the priests attack of the corrupting power of wealth during a mass attended by the rich parents. The most abysmal scene, symbolic of the films complacent, and insulting, twisted adoration of the French, takes place in an expensive restaurant, where the mother takes her two children and the Jewish friend for lunch: German soldiers try to make a problem with a Jewish customer, and the waiter, the other customers, and even a group of German soldiers having lunch, all stand up to defend him. What an idyllic scene, and so representative of the fight the French put up against the Germans!