Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle, 1974)
At the start of the movie, seventeen-year-old Lucien (Pierre Blaise) kills a bird with a catapult. As it is war time and this is occupied France, I at first assume this is food. (Later, he shoots rabbits and breaks the necks of chickens.) But there’s not a lot of meat on a song bird, even if you are desperate.
The inscrutable Lacombe is rejected by the French resistance and decides, instead to join the Gestapo, the way you do. Having denounced a school teacher, he gets taken under the wing of Jean-Bernard (Stéphane Bouy) and thus taken to a Jewish tailor, Albert Horn (Holger Löwenadler — a Bergman veteran). Horn has false papers and has to pay bribes to protect himself, his solitaire-playing mother (Therese Giehse) and his piano-playing daughter, France (Aurore Clément).
The sadistic Lacombe, a rebel with the wrong cause, has to balance his new unlikely career with fallen in love with a Jew and trying to get her father’s blessing, perhaps in return for half a dozen lukewarm bottles of cheap champagne. It can’t end well, even if they make a break for the Spanish border.
The film is curiously cold — we see the aftermath of violence rather than the violence itself and the concentration camps (perhaps thankfully) off screen. Lacombe seems to want the sense of belonging and hasn’t quite signed up to the antisemitism we are not spared. The big set pieces are avoided. We stay on the edge of skirmishes and know as little as Lacombe of the course of the war outside the small town. He wants what is best for himself — he is a selfish bully, believing he is a man because he has a gun and a wad of cash. Rescuing the girl is all about his desires and his happiness — although he is good enough to give his blood money to his own mother. The Resistance won’t let him become a man, so he plays at being one with the Gestapo.