Forbidden Games – A Poignant War Classic

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).

Forbidden Games - Jeux Interdits

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.

4 comments

  1. What a coincidence! I was looking around the internet for other authors with stories in Write Ahead/The Future Looms and stumbled onto this — it just so happens I watched this flick for the first time last month (I’ve been trying to make it through the entire Janus catalog in fits and starts for a number of years). I actually had to hit pause at the beginning when she was walking around with her twitching/dead dog because it was upsetting me so much — there’s something so impactful about kids being forced into situations where they have to deal with adult fears, uncertainty, horrors, loss, etc., — their not really understanding what’s going on (as if anyone ever really does) and still having to process it. It’s a disturbing reality I think is probably more on people’s minds lately given all that’s happening in the world. In this sense it seemed to prefigure a film like the more surreal, more stylized Spirit of the Beehive.

    I found Brigitte Fossey’s performance to be striking — in those scenes where they’re discussing everyone landing in a hole, or when they’re hashing out their plot to create their ritualistic animal graveyard and moving up the food chain to humans, you couldn’t get a performance so authentic from an older actress I don’t think. It “out-Neo-Realisms” Neo-Realism (I know the French tried to do this later, in music, with Jordy — but it didn’t quite have the same effect).

    If you’re interested in seeing another film that deals with similar themes, I highly recommend Ratcatcher by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay. I just watched that one recently as well. Incredibly done — absolutely brilliant and possibly the saddest, most hauntingly mournful film I have ever seen in my life. I was literally bawling from start to finish and don’t think I will ever be able to watch it again because of the sheer emotional impact, but it is well, well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it!
    -M.

    Like

    1. Cool that you stumbled upon this, a happy coincidence indeed! I think that Fossey’s performance is one that will stick with me forever. As you say, doubtful that an older actress would have been able to bring the same sincerity and gravitas the the role.

      Thanks for the recommendation on the Ramsay film. Will definitely try to look it up – I’m currently in the middle of Ikiru (started it last night), which you should also run into during your Janus / Criterion viewing. I should have a review up here in a couple of weeks.

      Like

      1. Love that flick, though it has been decades since I’ve seen it! I think it was the first Kurosawa movie I ever saw actually. I’ve been meaning to re-watch it for some time — looking forward to your review!
        -M.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s