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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.
*** 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.
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.
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)
"LES PARENTS TERRIBLES" directed by Cocteau himself : an over possessive
mother and her selfish husband destroy their son's life.
"LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES" directed by Jean -Pierre Melville: a sister and a brother tear each other in pieces .The sister is Nicole Stephane whose performance is quite impressive ,and she rises to the occasion when it comes to portray such a terrifying character (Cocteau lines are mysterious and threatening,"she didn't marry him for love , neither she did for his money but she did it for his death")When we make acquaintance with them,they live under a "carapace" and their mother -soon to die- is no more alive than Mrs Bates in "psycho" .Around them,a young man and a young girl who will be no more than puppets in their hands (mainly Elisabeth's (Stephane))Halfway between cinema and theater -but as when Cocteau himself directed- we never feel we are watching a filmed stage production.The dialogue is weird,now childlike ,now intriguing,often bewildering ,always brilliant with terrific lines like the one I quote above.The voice over ,which is often superfluous in other works -is here thoroughly relevant -and besides it's Cocteau's voice!-
Children who refuse to grow up?A fraid of the world outside?Youngsters fascinated by death? Incestuous relationship?
Strange how ,with the staggering exception of "la belle et la bête " ,Cocteau's movies display a gloomy cold atmosphere and a doomed fate :his "l'aigle à deux têtes" and "les parents terribles" as well as Delannoy's "l'éternel retour" and "la princesse de CLèves" or Pierre Billon's "Ruy Blas".
As for Melville,I always preferred his non-gangsters movies (this one,"le silence de la mer" "Léon Morin prêtre" ,"l'armée des ombres" ) to his thrillers (the likes of "le samouraï " or "le cercle rouge" ) which are no more than rehash of American film noirs with absurd metaphysical pretensions at that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie inspired the 1990's movie classic Problem Child 2. However, the production of this earlier clone is far weaker. The cinematography is not a patch on Problem Child 2. The performances are variable. Some average, some awful. The problem with this movie is that it wants to be an outright comedy but refuses to admit it. At times you can sense that the director was longing to put a banana skin in the path of its main character. The scene with the terrible child. That could have been far superior if the child had thrown a bucket of custard over the adult and ran off. There are too many scenes in which the main characters do not do anything remotely hilarious. Missed opportunities are the achilles heel of this movie.
My wife joked: "It didn't cost much to make this movie: cheap
furniture, an overturned car(an overturned _model_ of a car?), and a
handful of not-very-pretty actors." And that's just the beginning of
While viewing, we discussed several times whether it was worthwhile continuing to the end. My overall summary: "What the **** was _that_? We've wasted two hours!" The movie is too odd for most people to identify with. Cultural differences are not to blame: I've enjoyed every French movie I've seen except this one.
It's not worth discussing much more: other posts will tell you the plot. I have no idea why it has such a high rating on IMDb (7.4 at this time) - I would rate it negative if possible. Perhaps it's a piece of leftover intelligentsia flotsam/jetsam from the past.
Wish I had my two hours and wasted neurons back.
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