It’s one of the most astonishing openings in cinema: a line of refugees, fleeing Paris through the French countryside, are strafed by German warplanes. A little girl breaks from the crowd, running after her beloved puppy, and disaster follows. René Clement’s 1952 rites-of-passage drama – perhaps better known under its French title, ‘Jeux Interdits’ – was a huge success in its day, winning the Golden Lion at Venice.
Viewed now, it’s an unforgettable but deeply uncomfortable experience, undercutting an angry, powerful depiction of young lives torn apart by war with a nasty, anti-humanist ironic streak. The two young actors at the centre are remarkable: as Paulette, the traumatised orphan, Brigitte Fossey exudes an unbearable innocence, though Georges Poujouly is no less impressive as Michel, the farmer’s son who ‘adopts’ the girl. The photography is beautiful, slipping quietly from wartime realism into rustic fantasy, as the two children construct a mystical-religious fantasy world to escape into.
But when Clément’s camera turns to the adult world, things become more troubling. The film was widely criticised on release for its depiction of the French peasant class, and it’s easy to see why: to a man, these farmers are depicted as cowardly, uneducated and crude, caring little for the sufferings of others. The result is a beautiful, sad-eyed, unsentimental drama with a gaping hole where its heart should be.
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Jean Aurenche, François Boyer, Pierre Bost|