Louis Malle's drama Lacombe Lucien is one of the most effective films about the capitulation of France to the Nazis during World War II, and one of the most controversial. The film gets its title from the name of its protagonist, Lucien Lacombe (the name is given in reverse order in the title, as it would be in any alphabetical list of names, as a symbol of Lucien's willingness to submit to whatever regime is in power). When World War II breaks out and the Nazis invade France, Lucien first wants to sign up with the Resistance, but no one seems to want him; the Nazis, however, are eager to recruit him, and so Lucien signs up without a second thought. As far as Lucien is concerned, he simply wants to belong; it doesn't matter, really, which side he's on. His father is a prisoner in Germany, so that gives his superiors a hold on him, but none is really necessary; soon he's happily carrying out orders for the Vichy government, until he meets a young girl, France (Aurore Clément), whose father is a well-off Jewish tailor. Suddenly his life becomes more complex than simply the "fun and games" of war, and Lucien is forced to confront his lack of commitment to French society. Louis Malle's film was daring for its time for suggesting that not every member of the French public was a member of the Resistance; that indeed, many were willing accomplices to the Vichy government, and the sting of the film remains to this day. Shot on actual locales whenever possible in lush, saturated color, with a soundtrack by Django Reinhardt from jazz records of the period, Lacombe Lucien succeeds in bringing the viewer back to a time beyond authentic recall and confronting us with a simple question: what choice would we make in Lucien's position? The result is a disquieting, wholly compelling film, from one of the most original filmmakers in French cinema.
by Wheeler Winston Dixon review