Forbidden Games (Jeux interdits) [DVD]
Director : René Clément
Screenplay : Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, René Clément; dialogue by Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, François Boyer (based on the novel The Secret Game by François Boyer)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1952
Stars : Brigitte Fossey (Paulette), Georges Poujouly (Michel Dollé), Lucien Hubert (Père Dollé), Suzanne Courtal (Mère Dollé), Jacques Marin (Georges Dollé), Laurence Badie (Berthe Dollé), André Wasley (Père Gouard), Amédée (Francis Gouard), Denise Perronne (Jeanne Gouard)
Premiering seven years after the end of World War II, the vision in René Clément’s Forbidden Games of children turned monstrous by images of warfare was powerful evidence of the lasting, calcified scars that result from humankind turning on itself. There had been dozens of jingonistic war movies during the war itself (especially from the U.S.), and although neorealism and other emergent cinematic forms had portrayed its ugly aftermath, few films approached the somber humanism of Clément’s macabre masterpiece.
Rejecting the tendency to view children as idealized ciphers of human innocence, Clément uses them to depict just how fragile humanity is in the face of war. Taking place in 1940, as the Germans bombed France and civilians fled Paris for the countryside, Forbidden Games tells the story of the relationship between five-year-old Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) and nine-year-old Michel (Georges Poujouly). The film’s opening moments dispense with all sentimentality by killing off not only Paulette’s parents in a hail of German machine gun fire, but also her new puppy, Jock, whose lifeless body she insists on carrying around with her.
When Michel finds her wandering around near his peasant family’s farm, he brings her home like a lost animal. His father and mother (Lucien Hubert and Suzanne Courtal) are reluctant to take her in, especially since they are brimming with their own problems, including a dying son who was kicked by a horse and a longstanding feud with their neighbors, the Gouards. However, with her porcelain doll skin, luscious golden locks, and brimming eyes, Paulette is too angelic-looking a child to be deserted; yet, that very angelic exterior is the perfect façade for something deeply disturbed within.
Obsessed with death, Paulette brings Michel into a realm of strange fantasy play in which they deal with the world at war by replacing it with a world of death of their own making. In a bizarre variation on Freud’s screen memories, in which false traumatic memories are used to hide real (and worse) ones, Paulette and Michel build an animal cemetery in a deserted mill, pouring their time and attention into its creation and maintenance. However, this seemingly innocent ode to memorializing the fallen requires them to kill small animals to bury alongside Paulette’s beloved Jock so that “he won’t be alone.” Even more distressing is the way Paulette controls Michel, gently and blissfully goading him into more and more extreme activities to satisfy her desires. This eventually culminates in his stealing crosses from the local cemetery, which sets off a fierce (and admittedly comical) battle between his family and the Gouards, who blame each other for the desecration.
Strange as it is, the film works because of Clément’s consistently inventive and creative direction (note how easily he slides between disparate tones, from the outright horror of the initial Nazi air attack on the road from Paris to the meet-cute between Paulette and Michel). It also works because of the two astonishing performances by its child actors. Five-year-old Brigitte Fossey is astonishing in her naturalism, conveying without a hint of falseness a child’s simultaneous egoism and innocence. Georges Poujouly has a slightly more complex role as Michel, as he must balance his childish desires to please Paulette’s every whim with a clear sense of growing morality.
Oddly enough, Forbidden Games began as a short film, and it so impressed fellow director Jacques Tati (who had yet to make his first feature-length film, M. Hulot’s Holiday) that he convinced Clément to turn it into a feature. The film had already had a fairly intriguing history, having been originally conceived as an unsold screenplay by François Boyer that was then turned into a novel that met with great acclaim in the United States and was subsequently readapted for the screen. Not surprisingly, it met with varied responses. Some felt that it was not a proper depiction of either French peasant life or the effects of warfare, but others saw it for what it was: a devastating look at how violence seeps into the fabric of everyday life and affects everyone in its wake.
|Forbidden Games Criterion Collection DVD|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||December 6, 2005|
|Criterion’s new high-definition transfer of Forbidden Games was taken from the restored original negative and then digitally cleaned with the MTI Digital Restoration System. The results are great, with a smooth, clean, filmlike image that maintains great contrast and detail. Oddly, though, the 1.33:1 image is windowboxed throughout the entire film. While this is sometimes done on title sequences to ensure that none of the letters are cropped off the edges due to overscan, it is rarely done for the entirety of a film since it uses up valuable pixels that could be used to increase the image’s resolution. There is no mention of why this was done in the liner notes, so it’s anyone’s guess.|
|The monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical fine-grain print and also digitally restored, resulting in a clean, strong sound experience. Criterion has also included an optional English-dubbed soundtrack in addition to the original French track.|
|The disc includes three interviews. The first is an archival interview from French television conducted in 1963 with director René Clément. There is a second archival interview, this one done in 1967, with Clément and actress Brigitte Fossey (now in her early 20s) in which they reminisce together about making the film. Finally, there is a more recent video interview with Fossey recorded in 2001 in which she discusses her experiences working on the film. A particularly interesting supplement is the inclusion of an alternate opening and ending to the film that Peter Matthews discusses at some length in his essay in the liner notes. These alternate bookends to the film, which emphasizes the story’s fairy tale qualities, were completed and made it through several edits before being discarded. Lastly, the disc includes an original theatrical trailer.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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