Director Louis Malle’s film looks at a young farm boy, 17, who drifts into the French Gestapo by ignorance rather than intent. Pic displays the banality of evil and refrains from didactics or heroics.
Lucien Lacombe, played with a remarkable flair by non-actor Pierre Blaise, works at a hospital. His father is a prisoner of war. He at first wants to join the resistance (it is 1944) but is refused and, when inadvertently out after curfew, is dragged into the local French Gestapo quarters. He is made drunk and gives away the head of the resistance.
He takes pride in it, while seemingly unaffected by the torture, decadence and hysteria he sees around him as the Americans approach. Meeting a Jewish family holed up in the town, he is taken by the daughter and a sort of love affair blooms. The father, an ex-Paris tailor, cannot bring himself to hate this young semi-thug who moves in on them.
Pic is expertly directed and acted, with Aurore Clement as the fragile girl and Holger Lowenadler as her father also outstanding, as is the fine lensing that helps capture the period.