Les Jeux Interdits

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(Forbidden Games)

France, 1952

Director: René Clément

Production: Silver-Film; black and white, 35mm; running time: 102 minutes, some sources list 90 minutes, others 84 minutes. Released 9 May 1952. Filmed Fall 1951.

Producer: Robert Dorfmann; screenplay: François Boyer; adaptation and dialogue: Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, and René Clément, from the novel by François Boyer; photography: Robert Juillard; editor: Roger Dwyre; sound engineer: Jacques Lebreton; art director: Paul Bertrand; music adaptation and interpretation: Narciso Yepes; costume designer: Major Brandley.

Cast: Brigitte Fossey (Paulette, age 5); Georges Poujouly (Michel Dolle, age 11); Lucien Herbert (Père Dolle); Suzanne Courtal (Mère Dolle); Jacques Marin (Georges Dolle); Laurence Badie (Berthe Dolle); Andre Wasley (Père Gouard); Amedee (Francis Gouard); Denise Peronne (Jeanne Gouard); Louis Sainteve (Le curé); Madeleine Barbulee; Pierre Merovee; Violette Monnier; and Fernande Roy.

Awards: Cannes Film Festival, Grand Prix Indépendant, 1952; Venice Film Festival, Best Film—Gold Lion of St. Mark, 1952; New York Film Critics' Award, Best Foreign Film, 1952; Honorary Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, 1952.



Aurenche, Jean, Pierre Bost, and René Clément, Les Jeux interdits (excerpts), in Avant-Scene du Cinéma (Paris), 15 May 1962.


Siclier, Jacques, René Clément, Brussels, 1956.

Farwagi, Andre, René Clément, Paris, 1967.

Armes, Roy, French Film, New York, 1970.

Armes, Roy, French Cinema since 1946: The Great Tradition, New York, 1970.

Barsacq, Léon, Caligari's Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions: A History of Film Design, New York, 1976.


Eisner, Lotte, "Style of René Clément," in Film Culture (New York), no. 12 and no. 13, 1957.

Clément, René, "Pourquoi j'ai tourné Jeux interdits," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 May 1962.

McVay, Douglas, "The Darker Side of Life," in Films and Filming (London), December 1966.

Rejjnhoudt, B., "Bekeken," in Skoop (Amsterdam), July-August 1982.

Comuzio, E., "Giochi proibiti di René Clément," in Cineforum (Bergamo, Italy), November 1992.

Ghiyati, Karim, "Le petit Parisien à la campagne," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), no. 469, February 1998.

* * *

For English-speaking audiences, Les jeux interdits remains one of the two or three most important French films of the pre-New Wave era. Under Clément's direction, the two children are inestimably fresher and more engaging than almost any other child actors of the time. But beyond its immediate appeal, Forbidden Games remains important as an early conjunction of the realist style of director René Clément on the one side and the "cinema of quality" of the Aurenche/Bost script on the other. A tension is created by the film's hesitation between social allegory and anthropology and between a natural and a prettified style.

The film's allegory is transparent from the outset when German Stukas strafe a line of fleeing Parisians. In the gorgeous French countryside at the waning of spring, man's urge to destroy strews bodies around the landscape. Having set a brutal tone, Clément turns to his tender drama and to Brigitte Fossey, already irresistible at five years old. Wandering away from the bodies of her parents and into a pasture of lowing cows, she narrows the film's focus from public to private morals and mores, for her subsequent adoption by a peasant family displaces the social context from international war to domestic strife.

Now little Brigitte and her soulmate, played by Georges Poujouly, observe the stupid bickerings, rituals, and greed both within their household and between the households of the village. Particularly memorable is the death of the older brother who had been kicked by a horse. The children are amused by his ugly demise and the religious trappings of his funeral. Soon they develop rituals of their own, "les jeux interdits." In an abandoned barn they construct an elaborate burial ground for every sort of creature. So fascinated are they by death that they eagerly await (even bring about) the final end of insects, dogs, etc. The religious compensation of their candles and crosses is at once a grotesque and authentic displacement of the petty comforts of adult religion.

This ridicule of peasant life, particularly of religion, distinguishes the film as a serious production, as does the obvious irony at work in comparing a Parisian girl and her rural foster parents. Much of Clément's compositional strategy reinforces supercilious sentiments as when he cuts among rural families at the cemetery from a number of low angles. Such pretty shots progressively make a mockery of the mourners; finally, one shot is taken literally from the bottom of the grave. Clément also riducules romance: the children discover the older sister in the hay with the boy next door, who had been recently demilitarized. Altogether the dialogue is terribly pointed, even pithy, despite coming from the mouths of peasants. This whole "quality" flavor is summed up in the credits which are rendered over the pages of a book, as if insisting on the literary stature of the film.

But Clément's roots in realism and his command of location shooting also pull the film in other directions, some of which might be thought to presage the New Wave. Close-ups of the children are excessively lengthy and attain a documentary interest beyond their narrative motivation. They give the viewer a rather direct emotional access to these children apart from the story we find them in. The full power of this technique is reserved for the film's final sequence in which we observe, without any artifice of editing, the little girl dissolve in tears amidst hundreds like her at the Paris orphanage to which she has been taken. In short, we trust the tears of this child.

A New Wave attitude is associated with the music as well. Not only in the employment of a simple, lyrical guitar, but also in its haunting melody, which often triggers meditation on a recent dramatic action. Frequent promenades to the accompaniment of guitar are dramatic resting places wherein the film addresses the spectator in a new and more direct way.

Altogether then the film highlights in its style(s) and subject the conflicts of purity and the grotesque, of children and adults, of nature and man, of realism and parody.

—Dudley Andrew