Les Parents Terribles is the opposite pole to a film like Orphée: Cocteau the airy purveyor of fantasy proving that he could keep his feet on the ground with the best of them in a gut-wrenching tale of incestuous emotional rivalries destroying a family from within. Simply transposing his play intact (two sets, five characters, no exteriors), stressing the theatricality (credits imposed on a stage curtain; the trois coups sounded; the division into acts marked), Cocteau nevertheless translates it into claustrophobically cinematic terms. Subtle changes in perspective, metronomically precise editing, clinical use of close-up (like the justly famous shot - his smiling mouth, her agonised eyes - as the son confidingly whispers into possessive mum's ear that he has fallen in love), make this not only an astonishingly dynamic film, but melodrama of the highest order. Stunning ensemble performances, but Yvonne de Bray (the mother) is out of this world.
Cast and crew
Yvonne de Bray Jean Marais Gabrielle Dorziat Marcel André Josette Day