Cinema as a compelling mirror

A day or so ago I watched, for the first time in many years, Louis Malle’s wonderful film,  Lacombe, Lucien. I don’t think I have seen it since it was first released in 1974, when I was a young actress living in London. I would have been audience at the Hampstead Everyman or that wonderful Academy 1 and 2 in Oxford Street. I cannot remember whether it was shown in French with English sub-titles or dubbed into English. Either way, I would not have appreciated the nuances of the regional accents particularly that of the young actor, Pierre Blaise, who played the titular role of Lucien, the seventeen-year-old farm boy. Blaise, who was picked from amongst amateurs by Malle, talks with a southern accent so strong that even now after thirty years of living in Provence I had some difficulty following lines of his dialogue. Think Geordie for foreigners.

Aurore Clement plays a young German Jewess hiding out with her father and grandmother in a remote rural corner of southern France. The family escaped from Germany to Paris. When the Germans marched in to the capital, they fled once more to the south where we find them in hiding. This well-trodden path in search of a safe base became the modus vivendi for many Jews who had originally arrived into Paris from Germany or Eastern Europe. Their safer tenures in the south were, for the majority, short-lived.

At my original viewing of the film, I was bowled over by the extraordinary beauty of Aurore Clement whose photograph was then pinned to the wall of my attic bedroom in my rambling old flat in Kentish Town, where it stayed, I think, until I moved on from that address. But I feel sure now that the groundbreaking subject matter of the film was probably almost entirely lost on me.

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