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I don't know why I never managed to see "Les Jeux interdits" until tonight,
an August evening in 2003, more than a half-century after the film's
release. I'd heard about it ever since I started studying French in college
The amount of comedy in the film surprised and pleased me. I'd always had the impression the film was morbid and creepy. I didn't find it so; poignant, occasionally disturbing, even heart-wrenching, but not morbid at all. The acting by the two children playing Michel and Paulette is the most amazing pair of performances I've ever seen. I learned from postings here that the film was made under far less than optimal conditions, but the flaws that do show up in the film, chief among them the abrupt and unsatisfactory ending, are so negligible in contrast to the overwhelming emotional and acting values throughout, that I rated this film a ten, the first time I've reached for the highest number.
I cannot imagine anything finer than this film, whose images will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In French the title of this movie is perhaps appropriate, but in
English it is misleading. What is "forbidden" about the games that the
children play has nothing to do with sex (the usual designation of
"forbidden" in English). Instead what 11-year-old Michel Dolle (Georges
Poujouly) and 5-year-old Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) do that is
forbidden is they steal crosses, from the cemetery, from the top of a
horse-drawn hearse--Michel even attempts to steal the rector's
crucifix. They do this as a way of coping with death. The crosses are
for dead animals, her dog, some chicks, a worm, etc. that they have
buried in a little plot under the mill near a stream.
But this is not a horror show or anything like it. Instead, René Clément's celebrated tale of childhood love is actually a strongly religious anti-war movie of incredible delicacy, laced with humor and poignancy.
It begins with an air attack on a stream of people (presumably Parisians running from Paris) along a country road trying to escape the encroachment of the Nazi army. Little Paulette is in a car with her parents and her little dog, Jock. They are gunned down by a German fighter plane. Paulette's parents and the dog are killed. Paulette is left alone carrying the dead dog in her arms. Eventually she wanders onto a farm where she is met by Michel who takes an instant liking to her and becomes her protector and her friend. His is a peasant family of farmers who really don't need another mouth to feed, but they take her in. She is so clean, they exclaim and she smells so good. She is from Paris. She has just undergone the most horrible terror, the death of her parents and her dog, and now she must somehow come to grips with that loss. What transpires is a child's interpretation of the healing power of religious ritual and symbol.
Clément uses the world of the children as a counterpoint to the war in the background and as a gentle satire on the church. The children make a game of religion and in doing so demonstrate the healing power of ritual and sacrament.
What makes this totally original and deeply symbolic film work is the uncluttered and naturalistic vision of Clément and his wonderful direction of his two little stars. Fossey in particular is amazing. She is completely unaffected and natural, an adorable little girl suddenly alone in the world who must make a new world for herself against great odds. Her sense of personal integrity and her strong will makes us believe that somehow she will succeed. Incidentally, Fossey's performance here in conveying the creative world of the child should be compared with 4-year-old Victoire Thivisol's performance in Jacques Doillon's Ponette (1996), as should the skill and vision of the directors. Both are deeply religious films that rely on the pre-socialized world of the child to show us our own spirituality.
Also very good is Poujouly as the farm boy who loves little Paulette and shows that love by assuming the psychological and spiritual responsibility for helping her to overcome the tragedy of being so brutally orphaned. He is himself experiencing a pre-adolescent coming of age, a transition exemplified by rebellion and a growing independence of mind and spirit. Poujouly is intense and fully engaged, so much so that in one scene we can see him mouth in unison Paulette's lines in preparation for his time to speak. Clément left this in perhaps because he knew it would further characterize Michel's intensity.
This film won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1952 and an Academy Award the same year as best foreign film. It is one of the wonders of the French cinema, a masterpiece of the human spirit not to be missed. See it for the children, whose strength of character can inspire us all.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
I am incapable of writing reams about films I admire because words do no
justice to the magic they conjure.
FORBIDDEN GAMES left me speechless when I first saw it two decades ago.
It is ABOUT two French children, a peasant boy, a Parisian girl, who become close friends as World War 2 ravages Europe.
The film LOOKS at the way warfare effects the innocent and transforms one's view of death.
Director Rene Clement sets the story in a rural village and peoples his story with some of the most authentic characters ever to tred the silver screen. He employs humour, horror and humanism to tell his story and solicits an incredible performance from moppet Brigitte Fossey.
It's a tearjerker, too, it's emotionally delicate, and it's perfectly manipulated drama -- all good drama is.
Its power is its apparent simplicity.
A love letter to cinema that is also one of the greatest and most haunting war movies ever made.
The imagery and the heart-rending music score will remain with you forever.
The film tells the story of young Paulette and Michel. It takes place
in the french countryside during the war. Paulette's parents are killed
and she wanders into the lives of Michel and his family. The Forbidden
Games in the title refers to Paulette and Michel's concept of religion
in order to come deal with death They steal crosses around the village
and create a cemetery for Paulette's dead dog and other village
animals. You feel so much love between the older Michel to Paulette.
When the end comes and officials have to take Paulette away, the
sadness one feels is so intense. Looking at Michel, his feeling of
sadness and betrayal and watching Paulette deal with her loneliness and
fear, and having the movie end on such a sad and abrupt note seemed
right to me. This is truly a great motion picture.
French filmmakers just seem to have such great instincts when it comes to making films about children. This classic film started the wave of fine films about children, which includes many of Truffaut's films such as The 400 blows and Small Change,..also Ponette, La Vie en Rose, the Dardennes' La Promesse, Le Fils, and Rosetta, Sundays with Cybele, Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart and Au revoir les Enfants, and a great recent documentary, To be and To Have. The children in these films and in countless other french films are treated as human beings, not cute cuddly creatures. We follow these children through their lives and it gives us hope for our own children, we realize that they have such a deep capacity themselves to feel, to think, to learn, to suffer, to love... When I see most of the movies coming out of Hollywood about children, and I see the commercialization of it all and then see how many of our kids turn out, I say.....well what did you expect.
Francois Truffaut once said that you should not make films about children because you want to understand them better, no, it should simply be because you love them. We feel Clement's love in this film.
The first thing to bear in mind is that "Jeux interdits" was first a
short ,part of a film made up of sketches -two others were to be
made.For financial reasons,they were eventually jettisoned ,and "jeux
interdits" had to be fleshed out to the proportions of a feature-length
film.So additional scenes were shot more than one year after the first
ones...and of course the children had grown up! Clement and his team
had to make wonders to hide that.And they outdid themselves so
brilliantly that nobody saw their "effects".
Now for the ending:Clement wanted a prologue and an epilogue:Fossey and Poujouly would read a book which told the tale of two children (Paulette and Michel).Those short sequences were eventually withdrawn,which explains this unexpected ending which still baffles the audience today.
As for the movie,needless to say it's one of the most important works of the French cinema.Some users did comment it so well I won't add anything except for Brigitte Fossey's performance,which will remain the most powerful one for such a young child.It was not surprising that Fossey enjoyed a brilliant career when she grew up...even if she never found a part so striking afterward.
This is very nearly a perfect film. There have been many films about children, but few are strong enough to allow for innocence and honesty to co-exist. Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games) makes no such compromises. Hollywood would have traded a happy (and phony) ending for poignancy. Beautiful cinematography.
Never has the world of adults seemed so utterly stupid, brutal and senseless
than through the eyes of two innocent children who have to deal with pain,
loss, death and war.
And yet, the film is gentle, subtle, inobtrusive in its portrayal of the
grown-up's follies, and refreshingly unsentimental about presenting the pain
and beauty of childhood.
Few other titles come to mind in which child actors have so much to bear, and they manage it effortlessly & unforgettably.
[The only thing that bothers me is the too convincing 'acting' of the dead /?/ dog...]
A classic French foreign film, one of the best. A necessity for every foreign film lover's video library, along with Cinema Paradiso and Life Is Beautiful. This film haunts you and stays with you long after the film flashes its "finis". Part of this is due to the musical soundtrack, with its romantic guitar melodies, part of it has to do with the sadness of the storyline....the little girl's losing her parents and beloved dog early in the picture, but mostly the film lingers in your heart because of the outstanding performances by the child actors in this film, Georges Poujouly who plays Michel, and especially Brigitte Fossey as Paulette. Her little innocent face expresses all the horrors and trauma of war, what all the millions of children must have felt who were caught up in the barbarism of World War Two, when the security of a loving home was pulled out from under them. Never has the agony of a human being's suffering been so well captured on film, and I think Brigitte was all of six years old when she performed in this movie. A remarkable feat.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rene Clement's Jeux Interdits opens with, perhaps, the most harrowing
depiction of war committed to celluloid. A multitude of Parisians file
down a dusty country road, while the Luftwaffe circles above. Bombs
drop; machine guns blaze. At the end of it, a little girl is orphaned;
moreover, she's crushed her beloved dog Jock in an attempt to escape
the machine gun fire that took down her parents. Not shocked and not
necessarily sad, the girl carries the limp puppy onward (she does not
know he is dead) until an elderly couple picks her up and tosses the
lifeless canine into a nearby river. It's a completely devastating way
to spend ten minutes.
The remaining film, in which the little girl, Paulette, comes to live with the rustic Dolles and cause their young son Michel to become totally smitten, is now less emotionally charged (though it does lack a certain visceral, gut-punching quality inherent in the film's beginning). Jeux Interdits explores death through the eyes of children who either do not understand or only partly understand the concept. The mysteriousness of mortality has never been more touchingly portrayed, and I can think of few other films that dwell so single-mindedly on this theme. There probably do not need to be more films like this, as, when you hit the perfect note on your first attempt, there's no need for another try.
Additionally, childhood has rarely been captured so accurately (the apparent callous innocence of these children is pitch perfect and recalls to mind the axiom, "forgive them, they know not what they do). The youths in this film are not idealized: Paulette is selfish and finicky, but that is not a character fault--she's simply young--and Michel, eager to please her, commits acts at which the audience frowns but which the audience understands. Though innocents, these children are anything but idealized and that's immensely important to a film that deals with so much death.
Beyond thematics, the acting, especially by the kids, is uniformly excellent and adds to the touching humanism of the film. The cinematography and framing is also wonderful. It's subtle, but Clement arranges his actors within the frame in a masterful and painterly way. Watching the film I paused it several times to simply enjoy the tableau.
All in all, Jeux Interdits is an amazing achievement and, I think, should be more highly regarded (or it should simply be regarded by a wider audience). It ranks among the best in French film--among the 400 Blows, the Grand Illusions, the Breathlesses. It's a remarkable movie, which you should watch immediately.
I am really drawn to art that makes clean choices about messy things in
order to deliver the richness of the mess cleanly.
Its a complicated set of tradeoffs, part abstracting things away, part enriching or amplifying things. Cinema is different than any other art because nominally we presume we are seeing reality. The people and things we see are real and the situations seem real.
But what we actually get is refined. There are two pleasures to such projects. One is the inhaling of the world we are presented with, then living with it as it commingles with our blood. The other is a sort of external appreciation of what choices were made, how expertly the arrows were made, and what craft there was in how we were tracked and captured.
This is a wonderful film in both respects and likely will stay with you dually for the rest of your life. Clean and messy.
One of the messes is accidental, as is probably true in most real art. The story is truncated abruptly because funding was. If you didn't know that, you might be amazed at how adroitly this storyteller dropped the narrative to keep us in the story once it has ended. And you might marvel at how appropriate that is, given the girl's own loss of story.
The nominal threads are about losses and the superficialities of religion to cover them. This is wrapped in an evocation of dear childhood, innocence, deep bonds, impulsive large projects. And of course, adults who have no idea of the real world nor appreciation for the bonds to it. We can get all this because the ordinary skills (acting, writing, staging) are performed so well that they get out of the way.
(However, along the way we become aware that the filmmaker murders a finally twitching puppy before our eyes.)
I'd like to highlight the external view, the one that looks as what is refined and what leavened. Simplified in story thread and child's perspective. Enriched in emotion, engagement and unexpected shape. Its sweet and dark both. Its emotionally casual and deeply affecting both. Its both distinctly French and universal, something that is rare in my experience. Bresson can't touch this.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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