From the start of his career in the early days of the French Nouvelle Vague, Louis Malle achieved his reputation as a provocative, controversial filmmaker. His 1974 film Lacombe, Lucien, is no exception. Like many of his other films, Lacombe Lucien broke not only cinematic but also social taboos; the film, which tells the story of a peasant boy who becomes involved in the French collaboration,helped to destroy the collective black-and-white perception of the resistance and collaboration movements in France (best illustrated by Jean-Paul Sartre’s rather uninformed statement: “All the workers and almost all the peasants were resisters; most collaborators… came from the bourgeoisie”) which was (and remains to be) a controversial topic. The theme of collaboration was such a taboo that ithad been virtually untouched by filmmakers in France, until Marcel Olphus’ documentary Le Chagrin et La Pitié, released in in 1971 – only one year before Lacombe Lucien. Olphus, like many of the film’s viewers and critics, was shocked by the film’s both political and individual ambiguities, and by the absence of any moral judgement. One more favourable critic suggests that Malle masterfullymakes the viewer uncomfortable with the film’s occasional humour: by laughing, one inevitably identifies, to some extent, with the characters,  many of whom one would generally not want to relate to. The ambiguous portrayal of the collaborateur is evoked most notably through the protagonist, Lucien. An analysis of this portrayal first requires a synopsis of the film’s plot.
The film is setin a village in southwestern France. Lucien Lacombe finishes his work at the hospital and returns to his native village for the holidays, to find that his mother has taken the landlord, Monsieur Laborit, as a lover while her husband, Lucien’s father, has been taken prisoner in Germany. After Laborit mentions that his own son has joined the Maquis, Lucien tries to join the resistance himself. Hebrings two rabbits that he poached to a local schoolteacher, Monsieur Peyssac, who is an active member of the resistance. Peyssac rejects Lucien on the grounds that he is too young. By chance, Lucien’s bicycle tire is punctured as he is cycling home, and he finds himself in a neighbouring town past curfew hours. He is picked up by the French Gestapo, who seduce him with drinks to their cause. Lucienbegins to participate in sometimes violent millice activity - denunciation, torture, and gunfights - and lives in a luxurious hotel converted into their headquarters. At the same time, he pursues France, the daughter of Albert Horn, Jewish tailor from Paris whose family has taken refuge in the town. When Horn is arrested (and presumably sent to a transit camp), Lucien flees with France and hergrandmother. The final sequences show the three living in an abandoned house amidst serene countryside, seemingly unaffected by war. A caption appears over the final scene; “Lucien Lacombe a été arrêté le 12 octobre 1944. Jugé par un tribunal militaire de la Résistance, il a été condamné à la mort et exécuté.
Malle has expressed his fascination for “des moments ou des personnages se comportentd'une manière inexplicable.” Lucien is from the very beginning an ambiguous, inexplicable character, “Par moments, très gentil; par moments, très odieux”. The filming rarely reveals Lucien’s face, instead focusing on “his buttocks as he leans away from the camera… motion and colour, legs and a back, rather than facial features”. Consequently, the viewer is seldom shown any indication of anyemotions in Lucien. The only times we do see his face are in “enormous close-ups” when other characters, dumbfounded by his ambiguity, try to comprehend him. One of Lucien’s favourite lines is “je ne sais pas”. He comically repeats this innocent retort throughout the film: for instance, when France asks him “pourquoi m’appellez vous chérie?” or when Mlle Chauvelot asks him if he wants to work...
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