I'll do what director Louis Malle should have. I'm going to make this mercifully brief and to the point.
A young, privileged French boy in a Catholic boarding school in Nazi-occupied France mostly despises and later befriends another young boy who has a touch of mystery about him. It is just a touch. The audience can tell fairly easily that the boy is Jewish and is being hidden at the school by the priest.
Although beautifully photographed, this story goes nowhere as slowly as possible, failing to develop characters enough for us to care about them until around the last twenty minutes of the movie. At that point it became interesting as the Nazis made their usual menacing selves more obvious.
The biggest crime in the movie is that Malle showed us nothing new. Autobiographical or not, the characters are those we've seen before, as are the motivations and the lessons.
I'm not against slow movies. Babette's Feast was also almost ponderously slow and beautifully shot. The difference, and it is crucial, is that Babette's Feast showed us something new and gave us much food for thought at the end. There was a payoff and it was one that kept us talking about it for weeks.
This story mattered to Louis Malle because it was semi-autobiographical. It didn't to me or the three others who watched it with me.
I meant to say that we researched Louis Malle's other films after seeing this. Upon seeing that he also directed My Dinner with Andre, Tom reevaluated his review, "I now realize that for Malle this was a sprightly and fast-paced look at school days." Which tells you all you need to know about our view of that movie, which we never made it through despite our best efforts. 'Nuff said.
*I'll just say it now ... yes, I'm in the minority, based on the many acclaims the movie has received. I remain unmoved by them and stick to my guns on this.