powered by AFI
A film about two children coping with omnipresent death during World WarII, Forbidden Games (1952) endures as a timeless statement aboutwar and its devastating effect on people - physically, emotionally, psychologically.
After both of her parents and the family dog are killed by German planesstrafing the countryside during the blitzkrieg summer of 1940,five-year-old Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) seeks shelter with a rural farmingfamily, the Dolles. Taken under the wing of the adventurous 11-year-oldMichel Dolle (Georges Poujouly), Paulette becomes his adored playmate,schooled in the subtleties of country life. But when Paulette and Michelbegin a strange ritual of burying dead animals -- cockroaches, dogs, birds-- in a secret graveyard, director Rene Clement plumbs the universal humandilemma of coping with death, using children as his guides. Clement foundinspiration for his lifelong interest in the effect of war on childrenwhile making his 1948 film The Walls of Malapaga. He asked a younggirl performing in a scene in that film why she acted with her hand in herpocket. The crying child then withdrew a misshapen hand that had beenbadly injured during the war.
Adult behavior only mystifies Michel and Paulette, whether it's the by-rotereligious rituals or the ugly feud between the Dolles and their next-doorneighbors. The children's game soon becomes an obsession and theculmination of the film is a heartbreaking battle between childishimagination and adult insensitivity.
Like the school of realism that dominated Italian cinema after the war,Rene Clement's blend of visual poetry and documentary-style truthfulnessbrought a jolting sense of honesty and scrupulous detail to French cinemaof the time. Clement was said to have found inspiration for his film'srealistic look in the 17th-century paintings of Dutch masters Pieter deHooch and Jan Vermeer. The director's taste for realism was also certainlyhoned while making the French Resistance film La Bataille du Rail(1946). Forbidden Games was considered Clement's masterwork in apostwar generation of filmmakers that included Rene Claire, Marcel Carne,Jean Renoir and Julien Duvivier. Forbidden Games was often cited,along with Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937), as one of the consummateFrench films about war and its emotional toll.
Though Clement initially studied to be an architect at the Ecole desBeaux-Arts, he found his true vocation in filmmaking. Early on, Clementhelped Jean Cocteau as a technical collaborator on his sumptuous fantasyLa Belle et La Bete (1946). But Clement's own stylistic influenceswere more in line with Italian neo-realism, and his own work in France anticipated the maverick veracity of the French New Wave.
Forbidden Games was initially planned as one chapter in a three-partanthology film about childhood. But halfway through the production, Clementrealized the story would be perfectly suited to a full-length film and soabandoned the notion.
The performances of the two child actors in Forbidden Games go farin making Clement's film the classic it has become. Just five years old atthe time, Fossey was dubbed "the miracle child of French cinema," in aperformance especially remarkable considering her youth and her lack ofprofessional experience. After performing at age 10 in Gene Kelly'sproduction of The Happy Road (1957), Fossey studied philosophy inParis and eventually returned to cinema as a young adult in the sixties andseventies in films such as The Wanderer (1967) and The Man WhoLoved Women (1977).
Forbidden Games was not an immediate hit in France, though it soonbecame an international sensation when it was shown at the 1952 CannesInternational Film Festival. The film was initially overlooked as apossible competitor at Cannes, perhaps because it was deemed too morose.But after the film was shown unofficially at the festival, a body ofjournalists and cinema insiders gathered to announce their unanimous,enthusiastic support of the film and outrage that, had the film beenincluded in the official competition, it would certainly have won firstplace. American critics welcomed the film just as enthusiastically, withthe New York Times critic Bosley Crowther proclaiming ForbiddenGames "a brilliant and devastating drama...uncorrupted bysentimentality or dogmatism in its candid view of life."
Producer: Robert Dorfmann
Director: Rene Clement
Screenplay: Rene Clement, Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, based on the novelLes Jeux Inconnus by Francois Boyer
Cinematography: Robert Juillard
Production Design: Paul Bertrand
Music: Narciso Yepes
Principal Cast: Brigitte Fossey (Paulette), Georges Poujouly (Michel Dolle), Lucien Hubert (Dolle, the Father), Suzanne Courtal (Mme Dolle), Jacques Marin (Georges Dolle), Laurence Badie (Berthe Dolle).
In French with English subtitles
by Felicia Feaster