Friday, May 27, 2016

Lacombe Lucien by Louis Malle and Patrick Modiano

Louis Malle and Patrick Modiano collaborated on a screenplay about the lives of a few individuals in 1944 during the German occupation in France. What is so remarkable about this small book is how so few words or body movements depict the devastating complexity of lives torn by war.

The screenplay opens with a seventeen-year-old boy, Lucien, diligently and thoroughly doing menial labor cleaning in a charitable nursing home. Our judgment of the boy changes much in the process of the play but this impression will be one we will be reluctant to divest.

Lucien comes from a small town in southeastern France that is a hotbed of resistance against the occupation. One day, standing on a limestone plateau with a flock of sheep, Lucien sees the wider world stretch out below him. He is just at the age when he realizes he can turn his bicycle in a different direction from the town where he works to seek out a different experience.

The world is full of danger, and one must be constantly vigilant not to fall into a trap, even though ultimately we cannot escape. The ease with which Lucien kills a small bird with his slingshot and leaves it lying in the courtyard is how, at the end, we view this work by Malle and Modiano. Filled with banality, tragedy, and senseless death, we recognize the underlying truth of war and the human condition.

This classic work of literature packs so much humanity into a glance, a phrase, a movement of the arm that it becomes the essential reading experience. It is only 100 pages, short enough to be read in an afternoon or evening, and yet its effects last forever. This is the way to describe people in extremis. It happened just like this.

Re-published by Other Press and due out this week, this is a book you must read to get a glimpse of how great literature manifests.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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