”Jeux Interdits” or ”Forbidden Games” as it is called in English is a French movie from 1952 by René Clément. It is the moving tale of a young girl of 5 years, Paulette (Brigitte Fossey), whose parents get killed in the German attack on France in 1940 and finds shelter with a farm family.
This was definitely a nice surprise. I had not expected that this movie would be anywhere as good as it was and that makes me even more pleased with this movie. Essentially this is a deeply serious and tragic movie about how children deal with death and disaster, but disguised as a bittersweet comedy. That is a genius combination because it makes it easier to swallow an otherwise almost unbearable story.
In the opening Paulette and her parents are stuck in a convoy of refugees leaving Paris. Paulette witnesses her parents get killed by German planes strafing the convoy along with her puppy. The death of her parents is simply too much for her, she cannot deal with that. Instead she focusses her mourning on her puppy and in continuation of that on all other animals that dies. Paulette meets the boy Michel (Georges Poujouly) who immediately adopts her although he is only a few years older than she is. Through him she learns of what must be done with the dead, that you bury them and place a cross for them. It becomes quite an obsession for her and we understand that these animals and the rituals are stand-ins for her lost parents. Michel is eager to be her mentor and together they start a hunt for crosses of all sorts for their impromptu cemetery.
Michel belong to a poor family on the countryside. We learn that their life is rough, cloth are worn-out and torn and the food is simple. But they get along and in their gruff and rustic way they are a cozy family that stick together and where one belong. It is a case of what you do not have in your wallet you have in your heart, though they would never admit that. They are way too unsentimental to formulate such an idea.
For Paulette they are a godsend. After that heartbreaking opening of the movie it is so warming to see how they take her in and give her a new family.
The second part of the movie focuses on Paulette and Michel’s building friendship and their hunt for crosses. This gets entirely out of hand when Michel robs the cemetery of 14 crosses and causes friction in the family. They have no idea that Michel is doing this for Paulette, nor that Paulette uses this as an outlet for her mourning. To the family it is an expense and a disgrace. When the police arrives the family think it is because of the crosses, but actually they are there to take Paulette away. While the family is relieved Michel is furious. He seems to be the only one who understands how much Paulette needs him and his family and Paulette, well, she losses her second family and is understandably devastated.
It is not a happy end movie, but it is the better for it. It drives home the message of how lonely and bereft this little girl is and why it is so important to have somebody she can call family and trust. It is truly heartbreaking.
I have the added problem that I cannot deal with suffering children on the screen. It cuts through my heart like a knife. When we hear about war we think of soldiers fighting and numbers of civilian who are hurt or killed by war, but when you see the pictures of children being victims of the fighting then war takes on an entirely new dimension. Incidentally I visited the holocaust memorial in Berlin just two days ago, where these stories of small children add a poignancy to the disaster that makes it entirely unbearable.
Clément picked as Paulette a most gorgeous little girl. She is absolutely adorable and she works perfectly for this picture. She is believable as the lost child and her acting feels natural. That is no easy feat of which countless of terrible Hollywood performances bear witness. The DVD comes with a half hour featurette including an interview with Brigitte Fossey from 2012 and amazingly she still looks like that little girl. I understand why Clément chose her back then and apparently it was quite an experience for a 5 year old girl. She revealed an interesting detail: Half the movie is filmed almost a year later than the other half and in the meantime Brigitte grew 12 cm, yet in the movie you never notice. 12 cm!
There is a lot of heart in “Jeux Interdits” and there is a worthy reason for the movie, but most of all it is a movie that moves you as a viewer and I am very happy to have seen it.