Lacombe, Lucien

An antiheroic fable about the individual experience of history, Lacombe, Lucien douses romanticised ideas of wartime with a cold shock of psychological realism.

Lucien Lacombe is a listless teenager working in a hospital in rural southern France. The year is 1944, and around him France is under occupied rule, with the population divided into rebels and colluders – both passive and active.

After being passed up by the underground resistance, Lucien finds purpose (or perhaps just amusement) persecuting his neighbours as part of the German Police.

Wielding newfound authority, Lucien insinuates himself into the life of a Parisian Jewish tailor in hiding, drawn in particular to his daughter.

The young pair initiate an equivocal relationship fraught with imbalanced power as well as teenage angst.

But Lucien, Lacombe is never the coming-of-age narrative it so nearly resembles. Its compellingly inexpressive protagonist resists redemptive transformation to the very last.

Lucien is shaped by the countryside. We first meet him in this rural world and, through various twists of fate, are finally returned to it.

While Malle’s depiction of the French campagne is alluringly sensory it is far from pastoral: it is a place where animals live, die, and frequently are killed. The cool witness Malle applies to Lucien’s perfunctory violence in this setting is extended to the cosmopolitan and differently violent world of the Gestapo, complicating any attempts to judge Lucien’s actions.

Co-written by the Nobel-Prize-winning novelist Patrick Modiano, Lacombe, Lucien is defiantly complex without being wilfully cerebral. 

It offers a stark tangle of recalcitrant reality peopled by less-than-perfect-characters, in a context where we might most like to think of human nature as black and white.

Watch Lacombe, Lucien on TANKtv

Sign up here