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Another KVIFF viewing of Jean-Pierre Melville's tribute section, after
LE SAMOURAI (1967, a 9/10). This one is Melville's earlier work, a
collaboration with Jean Cocteau, an adaption of Cocteau's
internationally famed eponymous novel, which at first glance would seem
to be deviated from Melville's comfort zone, the film has a more
explicit portrayal of humanity in its darkest corner, and the fodder
has a comprehensive penchant to theatricality and character study.
A quite conspicuous clash comes from the cast, to wit Edouard Dermithe, the leading protagonist as Peter, who would not be Melville's first choice but thanks to Cocteau's relentless insistence (Edouard is said to be his lover at that time), notwithstanding his dandy contour is unable to deliver any conceivable conviction which his role should have embodied, no matter how many close-ups swooping upon his statuesque face, it is certainly beyond the rescue even Melville had exerted himself to the utmost. Nicole Stéphane and Renée Cosima, on the other hand, are the messiahs of the cast, several emotion-eruption takes are right to the point.
At least Melville still manifests his capacity is other department of the films, the cinematography from DP Henri Decaë infuses very seclude intimacy during the siblings' scenes when a whiff of incestuous ambiguity permeates the whole frame. When the setting moves to the grand apartment in the latter part in the film, the spiderweb of deconstructing an immoral subterfuge foiled with riveting and labyrinthine shots culminates the film with a quite amazing coda, which by no means should be even scarcely credited for Mr. Dermithe.
So the win-win combo seems not to fire up to one's expectation, and it is a quite qualified candidate needs a remake, then who is the proper person at the helm? I dare to suggest Jacques Audiard if one must be French.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Les enfants terribles is a 1950s psychological drama (thriller?
horror?) depicting two siblings with dark secrets. When I finally sat
down to watch it, I was curious as to how far it could/would go in
depicting what's up with these two, who have an incestuous
relationship. The 1950s were a time of censorship in Hollywood, but not
so much across the Atlantic. As it turns out, the depiction here is
largely implied, whispered; at first, it seems unfathomable, given how
rotten they are to each other. As it goes on, you can kind of figure
out what this film is going for, and it is intriguing- the two are
siblings in a very real sense. Siblings squabble, they have sibling
rivalry, but they can also love each other. This takes it to the
umpteeth degree, and I hit that epiphany when they're in standing in
the bathtub. Two people are standing outside the bathroom and hear the
siblings screaming; one says they sound unhappy, the other says they're
happy, and water comes pouring out from underneath the door crack. It
goes a bit far in both directions (Come near me, come to my bedside,
come off the top bunk and join me).
In other ways, Les enfants terribles picks up steam. The acting in the first scene may not be perfect; the narration feels slightly intrusive; but it picks up that dark feel, and we begin to feel, as the sister says, hypnotized.
Technically a cinematic masterpiece with some excellent acting, particularly on the part of Nicole Séphane, but this Greek drama of a family and some young people living together with relationship complications doesn't give an altogether good taste in your mouth. Why are people usually so mean and cruel in French films? There is very little humanity here, love is not sincere, Elisabeth is callous and cruel and actually evil in her possessiveness, it's like one of the worst novels of Balzac (of whom Charlotte Brontë complained that he always gave her such a bad taste in her mouth), and this lack of humanity gives this masterpiece an ugly touch of almost inhumanity. Its brilliance fades into the shadows of the meaninglessness of its cruelty and pettiness, they don't do much else than quarrel and fight throughout the movie, and it all seems so pointless. Did Jean Cocteau have any meaning with writing this play except to produce a technically perfect analysis of how young people perish in the destructiveness of their relationships? The language, the photo, the acting, the music, everything is perfect but is consumed by its own pettiness in a dwindling spiral of human claustrophobia.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You know what you're getting with Cocteau - 1920's transgender
shenanigans with a hint of incest thrown in - and with Melville you get
an almost literally 'classic' director; it's all about capturing the
performance as though on stage, the camera as transparent medium, not
as unreliable narrator.
Whether 'LET' makes sense to you or not, once the initial slightly slow sequence where there's an unconvincing snowball fight is over, it's a fascinating exercise in suggestive scripting, spooky acting and sumptuous set-dressing. Enjoy it as a period piece; if you glean a few bits of trivia from IMDb you'll enjoy it all the more.
This is a great film; I've seen it a couple of times on TV recently. Nicole Stephane is astonishing, her face a mask of passion, deviousness, grief. She had the glam-butch look that only Sharon Stone today has mastered. Edouard Dermithe wasn't much of an actor--Cocteau "rescued" him from the coal-mines of the north of France--but he's as spoiled as the story needs. Renee Cosima is fabulous as Dargelos/Agathe; I love her fish-mouth and hoarse voice, and those plump arms. A MUST.
Elisabeth is very protective of her teenage brother Paul, who is
injured in a snowball fight at school and has to rest in bed most of
the time. The siblings are inseparable, living in the same room,
fighting, playing secret games, and rarely leaving the house; though
Paul's friend Gerard often stays with them.
To me, Melville is most associated with crime thrillers, sort of a master of the post-noir or neo-noir genre. This is certainly not that, and really has nothing criminal or noir about it, though it does have the black and white cinematography. (Not "noir photography", but still.) What is this film trying to say? Who are the "terrible children"? What is jealousy, and what is attraction? Darned if I know.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a film that possibly several will admire but almost none will actually like. Somewhat bizarrely there is not a scintilla of chemistry between any two people in the cast let alone the four principals. It's very possible that the two 'poets' who collaborated on the production, Jean Cocteau, author of the original novel (published in 1929) and a man fully capable of writing and directing a film entirely alone, and Jean- Pierre Melville who went on to enjoy - after this, his second feature film - a very distinguished career laced liberally with Masterpieces (L'Armee des ombres, Le Samurai, Le Cercle Rouge - were so disparate that it is as if Picasso were to collaborate with Breughel on a painting. There's a wonderful piece of pure chuzpah on the DVD when Gilbert Adair, who blatantly ripped off Les Enfants Terribles in 'The Dreamers' provides a narration.
It took time to build, but when things got really rolling, I felt
things could not happen otherwise. The settings and actresses are truly
fine. The musical score, simple and obsessive, is perfect for this
almost naive plot of youth angst "avant la lettre". The final monologue
of Elizabeth about "how we have to make our lives ugly, unlivable" is
worth many bad French Literature we "ought to read".
While I cannot say it has any meaning, the "form" of this movie is so good one just forgets. I agree with Amazon's Tom Keogh that it may be "a harbinger of pop narcissism", I thought exactly the same. Some images are beautiful, like Liz moving in the garden with barren trees and a cloudy sky, prodding elegantly in a house that doesn't belong to her.
Doug Anderson on Amazon wrote a good summary and a great line: "the unwholesomeness of the bond is immediately apparent" "little blonde fascist versions of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton-". The thread he and another reviewer have is interesting. I pinch from there my end line: "In film the "how" is everything".
Jean Pierre Melville and Jean Cocteau are my two favorite filmmakers
from France, but for me, they couldn't be more opposite in style.
Melville is best known for minimalist, low-key, and realistic crime
dramas such as "Le Samourai" and "Army of Shadows", whereas Jean
Cocteau creates operatic and dreamlike fantasies such as "Beauty and
the Beast". I was worried, despite my love for both auteurs, that
Melville directing and Cocteau writing the screenplay wouldn't mesh at
all. Fortunately, their collaboration turned out an absolutely gorgeous
masterpiece. Jean Cocteau narrates the film in his typically poetic
style. This adds a dreamlike layer to a film full of bizarre yet
plausible situations, so it doesn't go against Melville's established
sense of realism.
The direction by Melville is, unsurprisingly, superb. This was before he made his more acclaimed masterpieces, but its obvious he was very skilled from the start. The pacing is perfect without a single scene or shot gone to waste. The acting by the youths is uneven, which is the only slight flaw. Edouard Dermithe (who later starred in Cocteau's "Orpheus" and "The Testament of Dr. Orpheus") is too melodramatic and over-the-top, but the rest of the cast fares very well. Nicole Stéphane in particular is terrific as the cold sister fanatically devoted to her brother. Fortunately, Cocteau manages to avoid any incestuous undertones that a cheaper artist would feel compelled to attach to the material (and honestly, I was frightened that they'd be present here initially). I'm glad the great Criterion has released this film to DVD. Hopefully, it'll obtain the larger audience it deserves. (9/10)
This movie really creeps me out. I have trouble getting past the incestuous relationship of the principle characters. Once it established that they have this sexually tense thing going, sleeping in the same room, at each other's throats one minute, loving the next, I was able to look at it as a portrait of a kind of sickness, a sickness of the mind. It also has one of the most villainous characters ever portrayed in the cinema. It builds a continuous movement toward self destruction and annihilation. The acting is superb but I could barely look at the two. One part was the fact that a man who appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties was supposed to be sixteen years old. The sister looks to be about thirty. Still, once I got over this, it totally captivated me. Anyway, I need to explore more of Melville's film to see where this led.
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