Saving France's "lost Boys "

Vichy and the Reform of Juvenile Justice in France

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Author: Laura Lee Downs
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In 1944, Léo Joannon's now-forgotten film Le Carrefour des enfants perdus opened in cinemas across France. The film (which starts in August 1940) recounts the struggle of impassioned journalist Jean Victor and a small group of friends to found a new kind of reform school without locks on the doors or bars on the windows, a vocational school for the professional training of delinquent youth whose methods were to be based on forging bonds of trust with the young offenders, rather than on their simple repression. Victor and his friends had all experienced firsthand the terrible bagnes d'enfants (children's penal colonies) of the Third Republic's pitiless juvenile justice system in their youth, and the story of the Carrefour (as their school was named) turns on the dedicated faith of these men in the abilities of children, even those deemed "guilty" in juvenile courts, to remake their own lives along healthier lines. Over the course of the film, the adventures of the Carrefour's 400 "enfants perdus" unfold inside an unexpected blend of progressive pedagogy (confidence in the children) and Vichy's fascistic elevation of the chef (organization of the school in hierarchically-ordered teams, run by older street toughs who are converted from caïdisme to the purer, if no less masculinist, ideology of the chef).

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