Lucien is a young farm hand in rural France, hardworking, not too bright. It’s 1944 and the Allies are advancing from Normandy. If Lucien hadn’t had the bad luck to live at such a fraught moment in history, he probably would have just gone on shooting rabbits, ploughing the fields, and been just fine. Alas.
Lucien’s little village is under strict and orderly occupation, but panic and hysteria lies just beneath the surface of every interaction. The Jews in hiding fear deportation, the collaborators fear their time is nigh, the resistance fighters fear discovery.
Lucien tries to join the resistance and is rebuffed on account of his youth. In an adolescent dudgeon, he unwittingly betrays the local resistance leader to the French auxiliary to the Gestapo. These latter craven and dissolute bastards take him on as a kind of mascot.
The exquisite subtlety of the story has to do with Lucien’s fundamental misunderstanding of how power works. For example, he thinks he has power over a girl, but when other guys can dance with her and he doesn’t know how, it confuses and enrages him.
His most dangerous misunderstanding concerns that girl and her family, who are Jewish and in hiding in the town. He thinks the power he has from the sanction of the collaborators enables him to force the family to do his will, but he also thinks he has the power to protect them.
The movie resonates at this historical moment, where we see a lot of people acting as if being in power at the moment entitles you to do whatever brutal and stupid things you like. Even things which in the long or not-so-long run are going to bring woe mainly to yourself.
Devastating but totally understated, with gorgeous performances throughout. Watch it.