As part of a month of global inspired activities throughout August comprising “World of Bedminster” celebrations, the next film being screened at SouthBank’s Classic Film Club (on Aug 6) will be Jeux Interdit (aka Forbidden Games).
Directed by René Clément in 1952, this film won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival and also an Academy Award in Hollywood for Best Foreign Film.
So … let’s be clear: this film title may be appropriate in French, but in translation it is potentially misleading, since we should say from the outset that it has nothing to do with sex – the usual designation of “forbidden” in English!
Nor is it a horror film, but instead a celebration of childhood and innocence that is neither cute nor at all Disney-like.
It is 1940 and in an otherwise picturesque landscape landscape French refugees are attempting to flee from harm with what possessions they can carry. Everyone dives for cover when bullets start flying and five-year-old Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) is orphaned in the air attack. In the panic and confusion that follows however, Paulette is separated from everyone and ends up wandering the strange countryside alone with nothing but a puppy in her arms.
She is befriended by Michel Dolle (Georges Poujouly), the 11-year-old son of a poor farmer whose initially harsh words demonstrate their difference in age and background.
The forbidden games they eventually come to indulge in comprise stealing crosses … from the cemetery, from the top of a horse-drawn hearse, from anywhere they can – they even attempt to take the rector’s crucifix.
They want to use these items for the graves of dead animals (like Paulette’s dog, some chicks, a worm, etc.) which they have buried in a little plot near the mill stream.
Of course, we understand that the children do this as a way of coping with the trauma of loss, the pain of death and the hazards of war that surround them.
The lyricism of Robert Juillard‘s painterly cinematography meanwhile turns this simple yet symbolic tale into a strong, anti-war movie of incredible delicacy.
By using children as an innocent lens through which to view the follies of society, the film is refreshingly unsentimental about the senseless of war – even finding a grim humour in brutal stupidities of the adult world.
DIRECTOR & CAST
Said by some to be one of the most unlucky talented filmmakers (because of some unfortunate career choices – a quality he shared with Orson Welles), René Clément (1913-96) was one of the leading French directors of the post-World War II era.
Known for his technical virtuosity, he could turn sometimes very unexceptional scripts into something breathtakingly original and inventive.
That is the case with this film (considered by many to be his masterpiece) in which he uses childhood as a counterpoint to war to construct a satire on the church: by having the children make a game of religion, they may be said to demonstrate something adults have forgotten; that in ritual and sacrament can be found healing powers.
What also makes this film totally original and deeply symbolic is not just the uncluttered and naturalistic cinematography but also its two little stars, whose performance of the apparent callous innocence of childhood is pitch perfect.
Fossey is wonderfully unaffected and natural as the adorable little girl who is suddenly alone in the world and has to cope against great odds. Although she is selfish and finicky, these are not faults; she is simply young. Ultimately she makes us believe that her determination and integrity will see her through.
Also excellent is Poujouly as the farm boy who assumed the psychological and spiritual responsibility of helping her to overcome the tragedy of being so brutally orphaned – even though he is, at the same time, experiencing a pre-pubescent transition himself, exemplified by rebellion and independence of mind.
In his eagerness to please Paulette, Michel commits acts that we surely frown upon but which we ultimately understand thanks to his performance. Though innocents, these children are anything but idealized and that’s immensely important to a film that deals with so much death.
CINEMA HISTORY CONTEXT
This classic film started a wave of fine French films about children, which includes many of Truffaut’s films, such as The 400 blows (1959), and Louis Malle’s Au revoir les Enfants (1987), as well as a great, more recent documentary, To be and To Have (1987).
Children in these films are treated as human beings compared to Hollywood movies which treat most children as cute, cuddly creatures and commercialized units.
Francois Truffaut once said that you should not make films about children because you want to understand them better, but simply because you love them. We feel Clement’s love in this film.
Jeux Interdits is an amazing achievement that ranks among the best in French film.