This Special Friendship (1964)
THIS SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP tells of the tender relationship between a twelve-year-old boy and the upperclass man who is the object of his desire. All set in the rigid atmosphere of a Jesuit-run school.
"Special friendships" are youthful relationships with homoerotic overtones, and this film explores them in the setting of a strict French Roman Catholic boys' boarding school in the 1920s. The faculty are ever alert, depriving the students of all privacy. When a vulnerable fifteen-year old boy, motivated variously by jealousy, subservience and fear, or genuine good intentions, co-operates with his teachers' campaigns to repress all suggestion of romance or impropriety in his own and others' friendships, he betrays everyone most important to him. Based on the novel "Les Amities Particulieres" by Roger Peyrefitte.
- WARNING - contains spoiler (end of film is revealed) The screenplay is based on the novel written in 1943 by Roger Peyrefitte (1907-2000) "Les Amitiés particulières" (Particular Friendships -- a term used in seminaries to refer to romantic friendships between affection-starved adolescent boys seen as too close and exclusive, often less happily translated as "Special Friendships"), which won the coveted prix Renaudot in 1945. Peyrefitte went to Jesuit and Lazarist boarding schools in the 1920s and the plot is understood to be largely autobiographical, with de Sarre being Peyrefitte's alter ego in the book. As in the book, Peyrefitte had a relationship with a younger student at a Catholic boarding school and as in the book, his love interest eventually committed suicide.
The plot revolves around Georges, the fourteen-year-old son of the Marquis de Sarre, who is sent to a Catholic boarding school in France between the wars. Getting to know the other boys, he is immediately interested in the amiable Lucien Rouvère, against whom he is warned by the unsympathetic Marc de Blajan, who cryptically informs him that some of the students "may seem all right, but are in fact not". Georges is dismayed when he learns that Lucien already has a close friendship with the slightly older André Ferron - they have exchanged blood and so are "united forever". He befriends Lucien, but filled with envy, tries to destroy his relationship with André, eventually succeeding in getting André expelled by leaving a poem about remembered kisses (which disturbs him when he reads it), written for Rouvère and signed by Ferron, where the Father Superior would find it. An action Georges almost immediately regrets.
When his advances towards Lucien remain fruitless, Georges starts a "particular friendship", with a 12½-year-old student, the beautiful Alexandre Motier, who soon becomes the more fervid of the pair. The priests who lead the school disapprove of these relationships, especially between boys of different ages, even though they do not go beyond a few kisses and love poems, with no sexual element, believing that sensibility inevitably leads to sensuality.
Despite their air of condemnation of these friendships, some of the priests harbour sexual feelings for the boys. One of them, the Graecophile Father de Trennes, likes to invite boys to join him in his room at night for a few drinks and cigarettes. Georges fears that Father de Trennes suspects his relationship with Alexandre and is about to become his Confessor, so he gets the priest dismissed by causing the Father Superior to investigate the sleeping dormitory, where he finds de Trennes in his room drinking with a pupil. However, Father Lauzon, who is a friend of Alexandre's family and as the boy's Confessor wants to protect him, discovers their relationship when he finds Georges & Alexandre laughing & smoking cigarettes together in a shed in the college grounds. He has separate interviews with the two boys & Georges says that he alone is responsible for their friendship, adding "My evil thoughts left me as soon as I knew him." But Alexandre is defiant and tells Lauzon: "Georges and I are one person. . .We are going to be friends forever." The priest demands of Georges that he ends the friendship immediately and talks him into giving back the "love" letters from Alexandre, which would mean that the relationship was over. Lauzon believes that he is rescuing the younger boy from Satan's clutches, but he then deliberately deceives Alexandre into believing that Georges did not feel the same way about him & regrets their particular friendship, setting in train the ensuing tragedy. He counters Alexandres disbelief by handing him the returned letters in an envelope addressed to him in Georges' hand. Unfortunately, Alexandre cannot see that Georges was forced to do this and that his feelings for him are actually unchanged and he commits suicide before he can receive the letter of explanation which Lucien has urged Georges to write.
When Georges is visited at his family home by Lauzon he tells the priest that he does not believe Alexandres' death was an accident. He says he should never have surrendered Alexandres' letters - he did not love him enough. Lauzon gives Georges a photograph of Alexandre blissfully asleep in a chair and Georges in return gives him the letter he had written to Alexandre before he knew of his death. In it he explains the reason for his apparent betrayal and asks Alexandre to have faith in him, declaring that their friendship is love. In a final address he declares "you are the boy I am; you breathe in me. . . it is for you that I live my whole life." He has become Alexandre Motier in his soul.
The later exploits of Georges de Sarre, when he is a diplomat at the French embassy in Athens (like the author) are narrated in the 1951 novel "Les Ambassades" (English translation 1953 as "Diplomatic Diversions"). In it he recalls the events at St Claude's, setting them between October 1926 and July 1927, although the exact dates are not given in either the first book or the film itself.