War between two countries, to a substantial degree, is a fight between two social hierarchies belonging to the countries at war. War is result of rivalry between the decision-makers of both countries, who are trying to outmaneuver and subdue each other. “People” with their jingoistic passions come into play much later, after propaganda on both sides activates ideological slogans mobilizing the hearts and minds of the masses for fight and self-sacrifices. In this context, the occupation of France by Nazi Germany is the background of Louis Malle’s “Lacombe, Lucien”, where the main character – Lucien Lacombe, still a teenager who was at the bottom of the social hierarchy in the pre-war France, joined the Vichy police collaborating with the Gestapo. Before the war and under occupation Lucien lives like a marginalized maverick, a person without any interest in political involvements or fighting for personal advantage, he is a kind of a white crow or a black ship. He doesn’t have hierarchical (rivalrous) emotions which need to be mobilized for fighting for the higher social position. Lucien is a-hierarchical creature, without enough hate or aggressiveness to fight for himself. He – a peasant boy, understands killing as a hunter, or in a context of defending people he loves. In France occupied by the German army Lucien defends the Jewish girl he fell in love with, and protects her family from prosecution.

While formally working for Vichy police Lucien didn’t kill or torture any French person. His buddies in the secret police were on the side of the Nazis for the sake of salaries and perks, but Lucien just wanted to live – he was in love for the first time in his life, his mother recently remarried and his stepfather was crudely authoritarian and indifferent to and even rivaling with Lucien, who lost the feeling that it’s ok for him to live at home. He wasn’t accepted into Resistance by the reason of his young age. Still, even a more important event than his love for France (the name of his girlfriend), was his difficult but productive friendship with her father, an old tailor, whose heroic deed dedicated to saving his family made an impression on Lucien – helped him to become an existential hero (with heroism without any fanaticism and despotic strain).

The unusual – radically socially critical angle of narrating events makes Malle’s film unique in its ability to separate compassion for fighting for justice from propagandist patriotism and career-making obsession approved by social hierarchy and standardized political ideas. “Lacombe, Lucien” starts and ends not with habitual – impregnated with jingoistic excitement concept of heroism but with the one that’s ontologically authentic. Lucien was nominally in the Vichy police without being vicious – he in his childhood didn’t know the servility of the low-positioned inside the social hierarchy towards the high-positioned and their meanness towards those who are of lower status. Malle challenges the “politically correct” patriotism as a fraudulent construction covering up the blind rivalry for a place in the social hierarchy. In no way Malle morally justifies the fact that Lucien has joined the Vichy police – he just invites viewers to consider Lucien’s socio-psychological roots and his non-conformist and heroic achievements. The director’s problematization of white-black perspective on Lucien’s behavior during the war is an important and productive intellectual challenge for the viewers.

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Lucien (on the left) – Pierre Blaise, has inserted himself into the family of France (in the center) – Aurora Clement, with the awkward imposition of a teenager who is trying to find his way amidst a complicated shuffling of powers in the occupied France. On the right we see Albert, France’s father (Holder Lowenadler) trying to understand what his daughter finds in this disgusting peasant boy working for the secret police collaborating with Nazis. But Lucien, for whom it is not enough to fall for the girl, is learning how to love her and her family.

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There is no one moment that Lucien and France can relax and enjoy being with each other.

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Although France is ethnically unrecognizable by appearance neither she nor Lucien can lose alertness relevant to Sartre’s dictum – if Jews are in danger no one French is free of danger.

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France nervously has drunk too much at the party, and Lucien helps her to get rid of the excess of “alcoholic psychological defense”

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Lucien has to participate in standard pro-Nazi police operation against members of the Resistance, but he doesn’t have any animosity for Resistance. Yet, as a person from the social bottom – from a poor peasant family he harbors a personal animosity against the wealthy French (of course, without expressing it in violent way).

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Lucien is looking at a boy of his own age – son of a rich father. He personally didn’t take any aggressive action against the frightened fat boy. But he was asking himself – why are some people so lucky to be not only wealthy but also morally right, with their morally justified right to hate, but why from him, Lucien, these opportunities were taken away right from his childhood?

Posted on Aug, 15 2016 –   Louis Malle’s “Lacombe, Lucien” (1972) – Why Son Of Peasants, A Person With Farming Background Joined The French Police During The German Occupation Of France? by Acting-Out Politics