Merlusse, his face disfigured by shrapnel, is a mutilé de guerre - an everyday sight of the period. He's a teacher, cold and correct, as a defence against the routine nastiness of his boarding school charges. The substance of the film - Merlusse assigned to supervise those pupils with nowhere to go for the Christmas holidays - is strong enough to fuel a Disney melodrama or a grand, emotional Lloyd Webber aria. What's extraordinary is not that Pagnol declines the melodrama (a villain in a Pagnol movie is anyway unthinkable) but that he only casually dramatises the situation, making this perhaps the first do-it-yourself weepie. Discretion, a refusal to indulge poignant detail, to ironise or to produce a big finish - here's a film that clearly never imagined postmodernism.