If you’re trying to make a film about World War II, you need to be a truly gutsy director to cast two children in the leading roles. But that’s exactly what René Clement did in 1952’s Jeux interdits (Forbidden Games).
By showing the war through the eyes of simple country folks who are more concerned with one-upping their neighbors than with the geopolitics of the conflict around them, and also through the innocence of childhood, this film manages to create more emotional impact than any number of soldiers being killed on camera and calling out for their mothers.
In fact, after the opening sequence, there is one death in the film… and that one is caused by a horse kicking a man who dies later.
The magic comes from two sources: the somewhat bizarre plot on one hand and the acting of Brigitte Fossey on the other. Her performance as the little girl is mesmerizing, hypnotizing and memorable. It’s peaceful, paused and innocent, while surrounded by poverty, death and, ultimately, betrayal. This is one that I think will stick with me for a while.
The nice thing about young actors in old films is that many of them are still with us. Apart from Fossey, there’s another surviving member of this films cast still around, Laurence Badie, who played the daughter of the simple country folk who picked up the little girl after her parents were killed by the Germans.
The one sour note was the very first scene which is completely different in tone from the rest of the film. Of course the film showing German planes was documentary stock, so inferior in quality, but what really jarred was that a refugee column got attacked by Stukas, then bombed by heavy bombers before getting strafed by Focke Wulfs in the course of five minutes. While this might have happened at some point in the war, it certainly wasn’t standard operating procedure. Yes, I know: it’s symbolic of the brutality experienced by civilians… but come on.
Funny note on this one is that the child actor who played the male role alongside Fossey is one of the men who was later involved in the famous Priory of Sion hoax, which eventually inspired The Da Vinci Code.
If you watch this one, you will not forget it. The director’s deft touch increases the impact.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans the genres. If you are fascinated with war, the psychology behind it and the effects on those involved, you will likely enjoy his novel Incursion… in which a suicide mission suddenly gets even more complicated. You can check it out here.