15 Aug 2016
Poster and Publicity Photos advertising Malle’s “Lacombe, Lucien”
This poster focuses the viewers’ attention on the question – why a simple country boy who never thought in political terms could join the French police “collaborating” with Nazi occupation. Malle invokes the sociological reasoning to answer this question. The poster suggests that the hero of the film didn’t just impulsively join the collaborationists, but thought about what to do, and this makes the task of understanding his decision even more interesting and important. Lucien looks at swastika as entomologist – at insect.
Amidst a national campaign of mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps Lucien is psychologically locked between a beautiful girl of a Jewish ethnicity and her powerless and desperate father who, naturally, feels “suspicious” about “this young hoodlum working for the Nazis”, who brings to his daughter expensive presents, which she isn’t even free to refuse.
Lucien as he is
Lucien and the French collaborators with Nazi Germany
Lucien’s new buddies in the French secret police are teaching him how to use a gun. Pay attention that as the target for their target practice they use the portrait of… Marshal Petain, the Chief of State of Vichy France (1940-1944). The reason is that Petain was not respected by many of his followers who were on the German side not because of ideological reasons but because of salaries and financial opportunities their work provided.
By looking at Lucien in a company of German SS soldier we don’t get the impression that he is really an ally of the Germans. Indeed, he wasn’t sympathizing with the occupiers of France. He was just pretending, and not even too persuasively.
Lucien Lacombe and the Jewish family of his beloved
Albert Horn, France’s father is a tailor – this is the only reason he and his family weren’t sent to concentration camp (one of the police bosses used his craft free of charge). So, Albert worked to postpone his and his family’s deportation.
Eventually Albert made a tormenting decision – to sacrifice his life for the sake of saving his daughter with… Lucien’s help. He started to trust him despite his repulsion for him for being part of the French pro-Nazi forces. He started to believe that witnessing his sacrifice can make Lucien’s readiness to protect his daughter France stronger, that Lucien is the only chance to save her life.
France’s grandmother (Therese Gehse) is ready to die – she is expecting for the Gestapo to show up at any time, but she doesn’t know yet that she and France will be saved by the effort of “this traitor Lucien”
Lucien Lacombe and the only love in his life – the girl named France
The first night between France and Lucien happened in a standard room in the same building which Vichy police used for its headquarter (there was no room for them in her father’s place) – god often frames human happiness with monstrous incrustations (probably, in such cases he makes a deal with the devil – or moments of human happiness couldn’t happen at all)
Lucien and a patriotic propagandist
People of social hierarchy, even if they’re on its bottom but accept the hierarchical principle, are prone to use righteous propagandist speeches, as this resistance fighter whom Lucien doesn’t want to torture or kill.
The principle of hierarchical structure of social power, which is deeply rooted in human societies is, expectedly, antagonistic to the principles of equality and justice equally rooted in human unconscious. This contradiction is foundational part of our nature, a split within creation. We, humans are social by nature, but some of us have a problem with how our social nature is structured by relations of power. Fierce fight for a place in the social hierarchy and fight for domination between groups and countries is destiny of humans, like also an idealistic fight against the very hierarchical and domination based principle of human existence. Traditional totalitarian societies don’t make idealistic fuss about the hierarchical nature of human relations, but totalitarian countries with embellished ideological façade (like Soviet Union) and formal democracies, while loudly proclaiming “goodness” and “rightness” of equality, justice and fairness had/have their own ways to promote and even perfect the hierarchical divisions between human beings.
Those who find themselves at the bottom of the social hierarchy and countries under occupation, control and forced influence of another countries will inevitably try to rebel. Their resentment and their desire to live “like others” – those who are above them, will go to the surface. Something like this happened with Lucien Lacombe, the guy not only without any political preferences, but any political or ideological passions, who suddenly decided to join the French police collaborating with the Nazi occupation of France. He is a goodhearted village boy, but several events – his mother’s remarriage, his step-father’s authoritarian and indifferent position towards him, and refutation of a school teacher – one of the leaders of the local resistance group, to accept him as a member (because of fear that Lucien is too young for serious dedication and can endanger the whole organization) – triggered his growing interest in alternative social hierarchy – those who worked in collaboration with Nazis.
Lucien didn’t have any political orientation or interests. He was just… at the bottom. And being a teenager he had greed for living, for becoming somebody. His mother betrayed him easily and without any melodrama – she, a widow, just matter-of-factly accepted the formal and bossy behavior of her new husband toward her son, as if there was no for an elder man the other way to behave in this situation (Lucien never revenged her and even regularly financially helped her out). Lucien lost his home and had to start from nothing. He is a maverick, he doesn’t like to appeal to others for help or to fight for a place in the social hierarchy.
When conflict between two countries is brewing, to a substantial degree it is a conflict between the hierarchical elites of these countries, which usually not only successfully survive wars but make financial profits on it. Because these decision-makers need the majority of the population to be ready to sacrifice themselves in war, they invent jingoism/flagriotism to frighten the people not to betray them. They identified their own interests with that of the country and they made “treason” the top sin/crime. For Lucien the way up in the French hierarchy was closed and frozen. His reasons for joining the Vichy police wasn’t based on love for power and money, like it was the case for his new buddies – people who was lacking basic decency. Amongst them Lucien Lacombe was like a white crow or a black sheep. During his work for Vichy police he didn’t kill a one French person, by risking his life he saved a Jewish family, and he killed SS-soldier. After war the French tribunal could take into consideration his record by studying his case more scrupulously. But war is war – it is not only hate, it is indifference.
France’s father – Albert Horn, at first was alarmed when Lucien proclaimed that he wanted to marry France. And he detested this French boy who joined police working for Gestapo. Only step by step to his contempt for Lucien was added the belief that Lucien can help, more – save his daughter and his old mother, if Albert will show him what real love and courage are. Albert still didn’t rely on Lucien’s love for France to be able to make him endanger his own life in order to save hers. But he believed that if Lucien will see that Albert’s will voluntary surrender himself to the Vichy police, Lucien will be impressed by a father’s heroism and will feel a moral obligation to help. So, between the two men – father of France and her young lover took place mute (never formulated or even hinted at) pact, a kind of hypothetical moral agreement which made one to give his life to the barbarians to give a chance for his daughter and mother to be saved from extermination by Lucien’s heroic effort. Malle shows us in his film that in an exceptionally dangerous circumstances this type of future oriented implied moral agreement can enlarge the chain of heroic behavior. Heroism of the old man made teenager a hero. Of course, I am sure, that when post-war criminal court was sentencing Lucien to death, he didn’t even try to persuade the judges to decide in his favor – for him it could mean his moral weakness to use for his own advantage what was a sacred silent mutual agreement between him and his beloved’s father.
It is that, as if, to die unjustly after doing something exceptionally good could be more moral than to fight for justice for yourself. It is, as if, a truly moral act ought to be disinterested – not rewarded by a world where everybody fights for his/her personal advantage and where sacred disinterestedness is lost. As we see, the old man‘s self-sacrifice is not the most moral thing Albert-the Jewish tailor has done, it is his moral pedagogy with the young boy who lost himself by joining a group of egoistic immoral philistines only to find himself by saving innocent people. With Albert’s help Lucien has transcended the very dichotomy between patriots and traitors where both sides belong to its own hierarchy of inequality and fight for superiority of material and moral power. In a Christian world to transcend the law of hierarchy is a much more radical victory over rivaling, competing and fighting sides. Saint Albert made Lucien Lacombe-the-traitor and -the enemy a Saint.
Posted on Oct, 3 2016 – “Lacombe Lucien” (1974), By Louis Malle by Acting-Out Politics