Old 05-30-2009, 06:03 PM
René Clément's Forbidden Games

Forbidden Games (1952)

This is a film that I was really unsure how to feel about. On the one hand, René Clément's "Forbidden Games" is very morbid in its handling of the material, but on the other hand, it contains a sweet innocence that helps alleviate some of that morbidity. This innocence comes from the viewpoint of a child who has never experienced death before, and therefore does not know what to make of it, so with the help of a friend, she tries to do what's right.

During the German invasion of France in 1940, several families attempt to flee for their lives. One of these families is Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) and her parents. When Paulette's dog breaks free, Paulette goes after him, which makes her parents go after her. After machine gun fire kills her parents and fatally wounds her dog, Paulette gets picked up by another family that throws her dead dog into the river, which Paulette then goes after.

Here, she is spotted by Michel Dolle (Georges Poujouly), who brings her back to his family. When burying her dog, Michel tells her they need a cross to put above the grave and other companions so the dog won't be sad. This leads them to bury ever dead creature they find in their own cemetery located in Michel's family's mill. For these graves, they try to find the nicest crosses they can, even if they have to steal them.

As I said, the morbidity was a bit of a turnoff for me as we see her carrying around her dead dog for some time before she finally buries it, but aside from that, there was also the shamelessness of the two main characters in stealing the crosses which came off as really strange. We learn that Michel was raised a Christian and knows all of his prayers, but he apparently forgot that stealing is a bad thing.

Even after a scene in which he confesses to the local priest that he stole some crosses off of his father's hearse, he is seen almost immediately trying to steal the cross right off of the altar of the church. You would think he would stop there, especially after being discovered, but not long after that, he and Paulette go to the church's cemetery at night to steal some crosses there.

Shortly before this scene, Michel's brother had died and was buried in this churchyard with a brand new cross on his grave. This ends up being one of the several crosses that the kids steal to add to their own cemetery. "Shameless" doesn't even seem like a strong enough word to describe someone who would steal the cross from over his own brother's grave.

Now that all the negative things are out of the way, there were things to like about this film as well. It was fascinating to explore the subject of death from Paulette's point of view. She's only five years old, so it's no surprise that she hasn't had any experience with death yet. The scene where her parents die on the bridge is particularly moving and stunning at the same time.

After they are killed, she lays there looking at them, not really crying at all. Her face remains blank as though she is confused about what is going on. There is a similar situation involving her dog; she knows the dog is dead, but she does not know what to do with it, or how to react to the fact that he is dead.

It is interesting how she never lets out any grief for the death of her parents or her dog, but instead, she substitutes grief with the cemetery project. To her, death involves putting someone in the ground, placing a cross over the grave and saying a prayer. This is the only way that she has learned to comprehend what death is. These are what her motives were. As to what Michel's motives were in putting everything he had into the cemetery, it felt as though he was trying to build something a little larger than a friendship with Paulette, though that could be looking a little too deeply into his intentions.

This balances out to be a decent movie. It's part tragedy, part exploration (on Paulette's part), and even part comedy with the silly feud going on between Michel's father and the family next door. However, what makes this really worth seeing is being able to witness such horrible tragedy through the innocent eyes of a child. 3/4 stars.
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