by Allan Fish
(France 1952 86m) DVD1/2 (France only)
Aka. Forbidden Games/The Secret Games
Keep it for a hundred years
p Robert Dorfmann d René Clément w René Clément, Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost novel “Les Jeux Inconnus” by François Boyer ph Robert Juillard ed Roger Dwyre m Narciso Yepes art Paul Bertrand
Georges Poujouly (Michel Dolle), Brigitte Fossey (Paulette), Lucien Hubert (Dolle), Suzanne Courtal (Mme Dolle), Jacques Marin (Georges), Laurence Badie (Berthe), Andrew Wasley (Gouard), Amadée (Francis), Denise Pereonne (Jeanne), Louis Santeve (Priest),
Of all the films that have detailed the agonies of childhood, there have been few with as much impact as René Clément’s Venice Film Festival winning allegory. Instantly proclaimed as a masterpiece of French cinema, its reputation has dwindled a bit in the last half a century, but its originality still rings true and the fact that it is, in some ways, an anti-war film, is a fact that too many have allowed to be brushed over.
French refugees are seen fleeing across a country road as German planes drop their bombs overhead. When her dog runs away, young Paulette runs off over a bridge after it and her parents chase after them both. But in drawing attention to themselves, the machine guns of the planes above strike and kill both her dog and her parents. When a woman throws Paulette’s dead dog into the river, Paulette rushes off and retrieves it, but is persuaded to leave it behind by a young boy, Michel, who convinces her to come home with him. She is taken in by his family, though originally only to stop their hated neighbours claiming another medal for doing so. However, when young Paulette tries to bury her own dog, her young friend tries to cheer her up by offering the idea up of a pet cemetery so the dog isn’t alone. But for a cemetery, you need crosses, and to keep his beloved Paulette happy, Michel steals them from the local churchyard.
Of course there is blasphemy here, but not a sacrilegious blasphemy. There’s no intent here, the children too innocent to realise the acts they commit. But as many critics have quite rightly pointed out, the real sacrilege is shown when the feuding neighbours squabble in an open grave and tear down each other’s crosses. They are seen to be the squabbling children, the children’s innocence seemingly standing aloof. Furthermore, when Michel offers to show his father where the crosses are so that Paulette can stay with him, his father goes back on his word and lets the orphanage authorities take her away. Without love from his family – who were a lot kinder to Paulette than him – and now from the little girl he so cared for, we fear for his future. However, we are also left fearful for dear little Paulette, her cries for her older friend – both in the dark attic on her first night at the Dolles and in the orphanage when she runs through the crowded hallways alone – reverberating in our mind as the music swells for the last time.
Yet though Interdits is not a happy film, it is full of wonderful moments. There had been a history of great French moppets in films since the silent era; the parents in the film perhaps old enough to remember Louis Feuillade’s Bout-de-Zan serials with René Poyen. And the tradition has continued into the modern era with Vanessa Guedj and Victoire Thivisol in La Grand Chemin and Ponette, yet there is a true timelessness about these petits. Poujouly is the emotional, tough kid who has become thick-skinned due to a lack of real affection, but comes out of himself for his little girl friend, whose being taken away symbolises, in the end, her status as part of a higher social class. Arguably even better, however, is Fossey, her blue eyes filled with the true wonder of childhood, her tears for her lost friend in the final scene enough for the hardest souls to break out the Kleenex. Nor can the contribution of director Clément, his writing collaborators – including that great partnership Aurenche and Bost – and photographer Juillard be underestimated. In the end, however, it’s a hymn to childhood innocence. Never work with children and animals, they say. Never was a truer word spoken.