VenueWalter Reade Theater
In occupied France, the Jewish Langmann family realize their pose as “Alsatians” is wearing thin and decide to give their young son Claude (Alain Cohen) a crash course in Catholicism before shipping him off to the farm of a friend’s elderly parents. Enter Pepe (Michel Simon), the old farm owner who constantly rails against “the enemies of France”—especially the Jews—and his wife Meme (Lucie Fabiole), whose efforts to give Claude a nice soapy bath threaten to reveal his true identity (by way of his circumcised “birdie”). But gradually, the boy and the old man grow close, chasing each other about the yeard and indulging in other childhood make-believe. Hailed by François Truffaut as a film in the great humanist tradition of Jean Renoir, the first feature directed by legendary producer Claude Berri (né Langmann), based on his own wartime childhood, is a triumph of tactful sentiment over mawkish sentimentality and one of the cinema’s most accurate recreations of life in occupied France. For 72-year-old Simon, who won the Berlin Film Festival’s Best Actor award for his performance, it capped a 50-year career that included towering work in classic films by Renoir, Clair, Duvivier, Carné, and Vigo (L’Atalante), to name but a few.