Forbidden Games


1h 42m 1952
Forbidden Games

Brief Synopsis

During World War II, a refugee child creates a cemetery for animals.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
War
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
1952
Distribution Company
RIALTO PICTURES/TIMES FILM CORPORATION; Rialto Pictures
Location
France

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

During World War II, two young French children, a girl and a boy, form a friendship forged out of the pain of losing their families to the Germans and somehow find a way to deal with their pain by creating a cemetery for dead animals, stealing crosses from churches to honor their graves.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
War
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
1952
Distribution Company
RIALTO PICTURES/TIMES FILM CORPORATION; Rialto Pictures
Location
France

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Award Nominations

Best Writing, Screenplay

1955

Articles

Forbidden Games on DVD


René Clément is a lauded director from the immediate pre- New Wave era and as such missed out on the critical accolades given the trendier Godards and Truffauts. In fact, the Cahiers du Cinema critics made it their business to take control of French film criticism by condemning previous "prestige" trends in French filmmaking.

Forbidden Games is a true classic, one of those films one doesn't forget. A basic synopsis tends to sound trite and simplistic, but the film is anything but. Thanks to a pair of near-perfect juvenile performances, the movie hits us from two sides simultaneously -- it's a gripping drama and a peerless allegory for what art films used to call "the human condition."

Synopsis: The evacuation from Paris, 1940. Her parents killed, little Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) finds her way to the Dolle farm and is befriended by young Michel (George Poujouly). Coddled and ignored by the Dolle parents, Paulette and Michel react to the pervasive death around them by making their own cemetery for deceased pets and barnyard animals. Attracted by the decorations at the local chapel, Paulette soon has Michel stealing crosses for her - even from the altar of the confused priest (Louis Saintève).

In different hands Forbidden Games could easily be rendered as a perverse satire or subversive tract along the lines of the better works of Luis Buñuel, whose vitriolic Viridiana is expected soon from Criterion. Little Paulette and Michel are more adorable versions of the amoral children in Buñuel's Los Olvidados. Ignored and misunderstood, the tykes create their own little world based on what they know and observe. The context is war, and Paulette's family is driven from Paris and killed from the air by German planes. Petite fille Paulette knows life in simple terms. She doesn't fully appreciate the death of her parents and strugles to understand the passing of her little dog. Surrounded by killing and death, Paulette invents a burial ritual for her pet and is soon conniving to get Michel to help her construct a little morbid graveyard, with crosses and other paraphernalia stolen from the churchyard. Unlike Buñuel, Forbidden Games isn't interested in criticizing the institution of the Church. It instead compares and contrasts the foolish concerns of the parents with the bizarre behavior of the alienated children.

The adults are simple peasants possessing few of the graces traditionally attributed to farming people. The Dolle family is constantly at odds with their neighbors the Gouards, jealous over trivialities and quick to accuse them of low deeds. The competition is clearly a war in miniature, with all adult behavior reduced to spite and violence. Although Forbidden Games never takes on the tone of a farce, the spat between Papa Dolle (Lucien Hubert) and Papa Gouard (André Wasley) goes so far as to have them fight even after falling together into a freshly-dug grave. The hidden satire in Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost's script goes even further; all we really remember about Paulette's parents is that they argued with each other.

What keeps Forbidden Games on an even dramatic keel are the near-perfect performances from the two kids. Little Brigitte Fossey is a five year-old Parisian charmer, frightened but adaptable and already possessing the ability to get a man (eight or nine year-old Georges Poujoly) to do her bidding. Never was wrongdoing so clearly expressed -- when Paulette pouts for more decorations, Michel's brain goes into neutral and he becomes a church vandal. Everything is an amoral mystery, including the staring owl that watches over Michel and Paulette's secret cemetery with its handwritten grave markers.

The film is utterly realistic about Paulette's new farm life. She's charmed by the animals and enjoys feeding the chicks. Death seems to be at the center of everything. No sooner has Paulette arrived than the eldest Dolle son is laid low, kicked by a horse and obviously suffering from internal injuries. His parents lamely offer him Castor Oil and fret while he slowly succumbs. Michel's sister finds out about the kids' thievery but the clever Michel silences her by threatening to expose her haystack liaisons with the son of the hated Gouards.

None of the adults means the slightest harm but they also cannot begin to understand what Paulette or Michel are up to, and we dread what will happen when the little thieves are caught. Intergenerational communication is so lacking that the kids live secret little lives, until the farmer and his wife get wise to their game. Paulette is so young and impressionable that she immediately decides she's a new member of the Dolle family. We know that another traumatic separation is inevitable.

The New Wave critics were right about at least one aspect of the film, that Forbidden Games becomes emotionally devastating simply by letting us share young Paulette's unnervingly realistic distress. The ending is unforgettable not because it is all that inspired in conception, but because we're never going to forget that anguished little face calling out in the crowd of refugees.

Criterion's disc of Forbidden Games presents this expressive picture in a carefully polished restored video version. The B&W photography is consistently handsome and shows director Clément mixing war newsreels with his own staged action, as he did in his exciting Battle of the Rails and Is Paris Burning? Narciso Yepes' guitar score is seldom noted, but it is so beautiful, it brought my wife from another part of the house to investigate.

Criterion's producers Jason Altman and Heather Shaw have put together a tidy extras package. Director Clément appears in archival interviews both alone and with star Brigitte Fossey when in the late 1960s she restarted her acting career. Fossey has returned for a new interview discussing the picture in depth, and she's still utterly charming. Film scholar Peter Matthews contributes a lengthy essay on the picture for the insert booklet. The movie was considered by many to be in horrible taste, and France declined to exhibit it at Cannes. The film's emotional trailer is included as well.

An unexpected extra is an alternate opening and closing that shows the same two child actors together, with the boy reading a book (the one in the titles and credits) telling the story of the movie. When she cries at the sad ending, the boy assures the girl that Michel and Paulette will be reunited and live happily ever after. Criterion's notes tell us that there's no record of the film being shown anywhere with these scenes, and venture that the bookend framework may have been prepared for a preview. The clip starts with announcements of film festival wins, indicating that they were more likely an afterthought filmed for potential export use ... perhaps as a commercial 'softener' to mitigate the perceived downer ending.

For more information about Forbidden Games, visit Criterion Collection. To order Forbidden Games, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson
Forbidden Games On Dvd

Forbidden Games on DVD

René Clément is a lauded director from the immediate pre- New Wave era and as such missed out on the critical accolades given the trendier Godards and Truffauts. In fact, the Cahiers du Cinema critics made it their business to take control of French film criticism by condemning previous "prestige" trends in French filmmaking. Forbidden Games is a true classic, one of those films one doesn't forget. A basic synopsis tends to sound trite and simplistic, but the film is anything but. Thanks to a pair of near-perfect juvenile performances, the movie hits us from two sides simultaneously -- it's a gripping drama and a peerless allegory for what art films used to call "the human condition." Synopsis: The evacuation from Paris, 1940. Her parents killed, little Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) finds her way to the Dolle farm and is befriended by young Michel (George Poujouly). Coddled and ignored by the Dolle parents, Paulette and Michel react to the pervasive death around them by making their own cemetery for deceased pets and barnyard animals. Attracted by the decorations at the local chapel, Paulette soon has Michel stealing crosses for her - even from the altar of the confused priest (Louis Saintève). In different hands Forbidden Games could easily be rendered as a perverse satire or subversive tract along the lines of the better works of Luis Buñuel, whose vitriolic Viridiana is expected soon from Criterion. Little Paulette and Michel are more adorable versions of the amoral children in Buñuel's Los Olvidados. Ignored and misunderstood, the tykes create their own little world based on what they know and observe. The context is war, and Paulette's family is driven from Paris and killed from the air by German planes. Petite fille Paulette knows life in simple terms. She doesn't fully appreciate the death of her parents and strugles to understand the passing of her little dog. Surrounded by killing and death, Paulette invents a burial ritual for her pet and is soon conniving to get Michel to help her construct a little morbid graveyard, with crosses and other paraphernalia stolen from the churchyard. Unlike Buñuel, Forbidden Games isn't interested in criticizing the institution of the Church. It instead compares and contrasts the foolish concerns of the parents with the bizarre behavior of the alienated children. The adults are simple peasants possessing few of the graces traditionally attributed to farming people. The Dolle family is constantly at odds with their neighbors the Gouards, jealous over trivialities and quick to accuse them of low deeds. The competition is clearly a war in miniature, with all adult behavior reduced to spite and violence. Although Forbidden Games never takes on the tone of a farce, the spat between Papa Dolle (Lucien Hubert) and Papa Gouard (André Wasley) goes so far as to have them fight even after falling together into a freshly-dug grave. The hidden satire in Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost's script goes even further; all we really remember about Paulette's parents is that they argued with each other. What keeps Forbidden Games on an even dramatic keel are the near-perfect performances from the two kids. Little Brigitte Fossey is a five year-old Parisian charmer, frightened but adaptable and already possessing the ability to get a man (eight or nine year-old Georges Poujoly) to do her bidding. Never was wrongdoing so clearly expressed -- when Paulette pouts for more decorations, Michel's brain goes into neutral and he becomes a church vandal. Everything is an amoral mystery, including the staring owl that watches over Michel and Paulette's secret cemetery with its handwritten grave markers. The film is utterly realistic about Paulette's new farm life. She's charmed by the animals and enjoys feeding the chicks. Death seems to be at the center of everything. No sooner has Paulette arrived than the eldest Dolle son is laid low, kicked by a horse and obviously suffering from internal injuries. His parents lamely offer him Castor Oil and fret while he slowly succumbs. Michel's sister finds out about the kids' thievery but the clever Michel silences her by threatening to expose her haystack liaisons with the son of the hated Gouards. None of the adults means the slightest harm but they also cannot begin to understand what Paulette or Michel are up to, and we dread what will happen when the little thieves are caught. Intergenerational communication is so lacking that the kids live secret little lives, until the farmer and his wife get wise to their game. Paulette is so young and impressionable that she immediately decides she's a new member of the Dolle family. We know that another traumatic separation is inevitable. The New Wave critics were right about at least one aspect of the film, that Forbidden Games becomes emotionally devastating simply by letting us share young Paulette's unnervingly realistic distress. The ending is unforgettable not because it is all that inspired in conception, but because we're never going to forget that anguished little face calling out in the crowd of refugees. Criterion's disc of Forbidden Games presents this expressive picture in a carefully polished restored video version. The B&W photography is consistently handsome and shows director Clément mixing war newsreels with his own staged action, as he did in his exciting Battle of the Rails and Is Paris Burning? Narciso Yepes' guitar score is seldom noted, but it is so beautiful, it brought my wife from another part of the house to investigate. Criterion's producers Jason Altman and Heather Shaw have put together a tidy extras package. Director Clément appears in archival interviews both alone and with star Brigitte Fossey when in the late 1960s she restarted her acting career. Fossey has returned for a new interview discussing the picture in depth, and she's still utterly charming. Film scholar Peter Matthews contributes a lengthy essay on the picture for the insert booklet. The movie was considered by many to be in horrible taste, and France declined to exhibit it at Cannes. The film's emotional trailer is included as well. An unexpected extra is an alternate opening and closing that shows the same two child actors together, with the boy reading a book (the one in the titles and credits) telling the story of the movie. When she cries at the sad ending, the boy assures the girl that Michel and Paulette will be reunited and live happily ever after. Criterion's notes tell us that there's no record of the film being shown anywhere with these scenes, and venture that the bookend framework may have been prepared for a preview. The clip starts with announcements of film festival wins, indicating that they were more likely an afterthought filmed for potential export use ... perhaps as a commercial 'softener' to mitigate the perceived downer ending. For more information about Forbidden Games, visit Criterion Collection. To order Forbidden Games, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Forbidden Games


A film about two children coping with omnipresent death during World War II, Forbidden Games (1952) endures as a timeless statement about war and its devastating effect on people - physically, emotionally, psychologically.

After both of her parents and the family dog are killed by German planes strafing the countryside during the blitzkrieg summer of 1940, five-year-old Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) seeks shelter with a rural farming family, the Dolles. Taken under the wing of the adventurous 11-year-old Michel Dolle (Georges Poujouly), Paulette becomes his adored playmate, schooled in the subtleties of country life. But when Paulette and Michel begin a strange ritual of burying dead animals -- cockroaches, dogs, birds -- in a secret graveyard, director Rene Clement plumbs the universal human dilemma of coping with death, using children as his guides. Clement found inspiration for his lifelong interest in the effect of war on children while making his 1948 film The Walls of Malapaga. He asked a young girl performing in a scene in that film why she acted with her hand in her pocket. The crying child then withdrew a misshapen hand that had been badly injured during the war.

Adult behavior only mystifies Michel and Paulette, whether it's the by-rote religious rituals or the ugly feud between the Dolles and their next-door neighbors. The children's game soon becomes an obsession and the culmination of the film is a heartbreaking battle between childish imagination 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 truthfulness brought a jolting sense of honesty and scrupulous detail to French cinema of the time. Clement was said to have found inspiration for his film's realistic look in the 17th-century paintings of Dutch masters Pieter de Hooch and Jan Vermeer. The director's taste for realism was also certainly honed while making the French Resistance film La Bataille du Rail (1946). Forbidden Games was considered Clement's masterwork in a postwar 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 consummate French films about war and its emotional toll.

Though Clement initially studied to be an architect at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he found his true vocation in filmmaking. Early on, Clement helped Jean Cocteau as a technical collaborator on his sumptuous fantasy La Belle et La Bete (1946). But Clement's own stylistic influences were 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-part anthology film about childhood. But halfway through the production, Clement realized the story would be perfectly suited to a full-length film and so abandoned the notion.

The performances of the two child actors in Forbidden Games go far in making Clement's film the classic it has become. Just five years old at the time, Fossey was dubbed "the miracle child of French cinema," in a performance especially remarkable considering her youth and her lack of professional experience. After performing at age 10 in Gene Kelly's production of The Happy Road (1957), Fossey studied philosophy in Paris and eventually returned to cinema as a young adult in the sixties and seventies in films such as The Wanderer (1967) and The Man Who Loved Women (1977).

Forbidden Games was not an immediate hit in France, though it soon became an international sensation when it was shown at the 1952 Cannes International Film Festival. The film was initially overlooked as a possible competitor at Cannes, perhaps because it was deemed too morose. But after the film was shown unofficially at the festival, a body of journalists and cinema insiders gathered to announce their unanimous, enthusiastic support of the film and outrage that, had the film been included in the official competition, it would certainly have won first place. American critics welcomed the film just as enthusiastically, with the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther proclaiming Forbidden Games "a brilliant and devastating drama...uncorrupted by sentimentality or dogmatism in its candid view of life."

Producer: Robert Dorfmann
Director: Rene Clement
Screenplay: Rene Clement, Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, based on the novel Les 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).
BW-85m.
In French with English subtitles

by Felicia Feaster

Forbidden Games

A film about two children coping with omnipresent death during World War II, Forbidden Games (1952) endures as a timeless statement about war and its devastating effect on people - physically, emotionally, psychologically. After both of her parents and the family dog are killed by German planes strafing the countryside during the blitzkrieg summer of 1940, five-year-old Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) seeks shelter with a rural farming family, the Dolles. Taken under the wing of the adventurous 11-year-old Michel Dolle (Georges Poujouly), Paulette becomes his adored playmate, schooled in the subtleties of country life. But when Paulette and Michel begin a strange ritual of burying dead animals -- cockroaches, dogs, birds -- in a secret graveyard, director Rene Clement plumbs the universal human dilemma of coping with death, using children as his guides. Clement found inspiration for his lifelong interest in the effect of war on children while making his 1948 film The Walls of Malapaga. He asked a young girl performing in a scene in that film why she acted with her hand in her pocket. The crying child then withdrew a misshapen hand that had been badly injured during the war. Adult behavior only mystifies Michel and Paulette, whether it's the by-rote religious rituals or the ugly feud between the Dolles and their next-door neighbors. The children's game soon becomes an obsession and the culmination of the film is a heartbreaking battle between childish imagination 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 truthfulness brought a jolting sense of honesty and scrupulous detail to French cinema of the time. Clement was said to have found inspiration for his film's realistic look in the 17th-century paintings of Dutch masters Pieter de Hooch and Jan Vermeer. The director's taste for realism was also certainly honed while making the French Resistance film La Bataille du Rail (1946). Forbidden Games was considered Clement's masterwork in a postwar 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 consummate French films about war and its emotional toll. Though Clement initially studied to be an architect at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he found his true vocation in filmmaking. Early on, Clement helped Jean Cocteau as a technical collaborator on his sumptuous fantasy La Belle et La Bete (1946). But Clement's own stylistic influences were 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-part anthology film about childhood. But halfway through the production, Clement realized the story would be perfectly suited to a full-length film and so abandoned the notion. The performances of the two child actors in Forbidden Games go far in making Clement's film the classic it has become. Just five years old at the time, Fossey was dubbed "the miracle child of French cinema," in a performance especially remarkable considering her youth and her lack of professional experience. After performing at age 10 in Gene Kelly's production of The Happy Road (1957), Fossey studied philosophy in Paris and eventually returned to cinema as a young adult in the sixties and seventies in films such as The Wanderer (1967) and The Man Who Loved Women (1977). Forbidden Games was not an immediate hit in France, though it soon became an international sensation when it was shown at the 1952 Cannes International Film Festival. The film was initially overlooked as a possible competitor at Cannes, perhaps because it was deemed too morose. But after the film was shown unofficially at the festival, a body of journalists and cinema insiders gathered to announce their unanimous, enthusiastic support of the film and outrage that, had the film been included in the official competition, it would certainly have won first place. American critics welcomed the film just as enthusiastically, with the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther proclaiming Forbidden Games "a brilliant and devastating drama...uncorrupted by sentimentality or dogmatism in its candid view of life." Producer: Robert Dorfmann Director: Rene Clement Screenplay: Rene Clement, Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, based on the novel Les 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). BW-85m. In French with English subtitles by Felicia Feaster

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Winner of the Golden Lion for Best Film at the 1954 Venice Film Festival.

Limited Release in United States April 24, 2015

Released in United States 1953

Released in United States 1954

Released in United States May 20, 1952

Released in United States November 1989

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1952

Shown at Sarasota French Film Festival November 14-19, 1989.

Shown at the 1954 Venice Film Festival (in competition).

Shown at the Cannes International Film Festival (out of competition) May 20, 1952.

Released in United States 1953

Released in United States 1954 (Shown at the 1954 Venice Film Festival (in competition).)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1952

Limited Release in United States April 24, 2015

Released in United States May 20, 1952 (Shown at the Cannes International Film Festival (out of competition) May 20, 1952.)

Released in United States November 1989 (Shown at Sarasota French Film Festival November 14-19, 1989.)

Based on the novel "Jeux interdits" written by François Boyer, published in France in 1947 and published in the United States by Harcourt, Brace in 1950.

Formerly distributed by Nelson Entertainment.