Forbidden Games (1952)

Forbidden Games is one of the most heartbreaking films that portray wartime and death through the eyes of an adolescence. Directed by the French director Rene Clement, this film tells the story on how children escape into fantasy and denial to deal with the horrors around them. Most films would soften the story and not portray the horrors of the war so realistically but this film isn't trying to be sentimental, but honest and sincere. It is June 1940, during the Battle of France. After five-year-old Paulette's parents and pet dog are killed in a German air attack on a column of refugees fleeing Paris, the traumatized child meets 10-year-old Michel Dollé whose peasant family takes her in. She quickly becomes attached to Michel as the two children invent games as a way to shield themselves from the horrors of the war, so they can psychologically come to terms with their confused emotions. The two attempt to cope with the death and destruction that surrounds them by secretly building a small cemetery among the ruins of an abandoned barn, where they bury her dog and start to bury other animals, marking their graves with crosses stolen from a local graveyard. When deeply looking into the story of Forbidden Games there is a darker underlying theme; which is the theme of death. The strange behavior with Paulette and Michel's obsession with death and the bodies of the dead can appear sinister and morbid when looking at it from an adults point of view. But looking at it through a child's eyes and all the horrors they have witnessed and seen, it gives their strange behavior much more understanding. Technically war is responsible for their unusual behavior and how they look at life and death. This film curiously explores these children's dark instinctual curiosities and morbid fascinations on the themes of death and necrophilia, which in human nature is natural; if we could only admit it. Christian themes are obviously the subtext to the film and the actions the children are committing like stealing crosses from dead graves and making a secret cemetery of their own seems very sacrilegious and scandalous. But when analyzing these children you see Paulette as a victim of psychological and emotional trauma who can only understand death and grief through these dead animals and insects which resemble the memory of her dead parents, giving her a morbid comfort. When Forbidden Games was first released it was criticized because it portrayed children creating happiness when their shouldn't have existed any and I was reminded of other films like Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful and the Japanese animated war film Graves of the Fireflies. Films like these can only exist when you go back and think of your own childhood and how you perceived the complex world for how simple it really was.

 

PLOT/NOTES

A hand opens up a book showing the credit titles and at the end of the film it will show the hand closing the book; as if this was a sort of children's tale; which in some ways it is. The beginning of the film takes place during the German blitzkrieg of Paris, in June 1940 as you see a crowd of refugees in the streets fleeing the capital to the country side. The roads are blocked up because of the amount of refugees as they all run for cover when German planes drop bombs over them or fly down and shoot at them. One interesting shot of a bomb dropping and a woman screaming reminds me of the way Sergei Eisenstein filmed the war scenes in Battleship Potemkin.

A father and mother are with their daughter named Paulette who are trying to start their automobile and the people waiting behind them start panicking and getting impatient so they decide to push the car off the road. Paulette takes their puppy out of the car and the three make a run on foot as more incoming German planes start bombing them. Paulette's little puppy runs out onto a bridge and so she chases it, and her parents desperately run after her. When they catch up to her and the puppy they all duck down for cover once again as you see a stream of bullets from a machine gun tear through the backs of Paulette's parents and fatally wound the puppy.

Paulette, lying on the ground next to her mother looks at her as she is no longer moving and reaches out her hand to touch her dead cheek, and then touches her own cheek. And yet she does not cry because she does not understand. She holds her puppy as the legs jerk for a short time before it dies as well. A crowd of strangers see the girl standing all alone and pick her up and take her with them on their carriage. One woman on the carriage sees the girl holding her dead puppy and grabs it throwing the puppy out into the pond. While stuck in a jam on the road Paulette sneaks off the wagon to go after her dead puppy which is floating away down the river. She follows the dead puppy while on land as it leads her towards a isolated farm.When she finally gets a hold of her dead puppy Paulette strolls in the woods and starts to cry cradling it.

A young boy from the nearby farm is running after one of his cows and sees her. He asks whats wrong before realizing shes holding a dead animal. When he asks where her parents are she says their both dead; so he tells her to leave her puppy there and to come home with him. He then tells her his names is Michel Dolle and she says she's Paulette from Paris; but for some reason does not tell him her last name.

The two children arrive to his home as they watch Michel's father having a argument with the Gourd family next door. When his father sees Paulette he asks who she is and Michel says her parents were killed and asks if they can keep her. As they walk in the house Paulette sees that Michel's oldest brother Georges was severely injured by being kicked by a horse and is in bed suffering major pain. When the rest of the family sees the child they all ask if she has seen the war and the bombs but Paulette is too traumatized to answer.

Later that evening Paulette is sleeping on Michel's father's lap as he reads in the paper on the latest news of the war. Paulette opens her eyes to see Michel across the table making funny faces with a pencil to make her smile. While reading the paper the father is angry when he stumbles upon a story of one of the Gourds son's being decorated with a medal; in which you notice there is a rural feud going on between the Dolle and the Gourds.

One of Michel's brothers says the war is causing so many people to die that they don't have enough coffins. Mr. Dolle tells him to be quite because Paulette could hear him and then Mrs. Dolle takes Paulette to bed. When tucking her into bed Paulette says, "I'm scared of the dark! Michel!" Michel goes up to be beside her. She says he doesn't want to stay here.

"You have no choice. Where would you go?"

"I want to go back to Mama and Papa on the bridge."

"They're not there anymore."

"Why? Where are they?"

"In a hole."

"Are they in a hole to keep dry from the rain? What about my dog?"

Eventually Paulette dozes off but in the middle of the night Paulette starts screaming in her sleep; so Michel goes up to comfort her once again.

The next morning everyone's getting up for breakfast and when Paulette asks what the cross is on the wall Mrs. Dolle is astonished that she doesn't know about the Good Lord and that maybe she should get baptized. Later that day Paulette goes back to the location where she left her dead puppy and starts digging a hole to bury it. A stranger is biking and confronts her and asks who she is. When she says she's staying with Michel's family because her parents are dead he asks if she prayed for her parents yet and teaches her what to say and how to make the sign of the cross. Once he leaves she takes her dead puppy and runs off to find a more private spot to dig up a burial for it.

Michel catches up to her at an abandoned mill where he finds her digging a grave for her puppy and helps her dig the hole. He says, "I've got an idea. We can make a cemetery." When she asks what that is he says, "it's where they put the dead all together so they won't be sad." As she's burying her puppy she says a prayer the one stranger taught her while making the sign of the cross. Michel goes up on the top floor of the mill where an owl is nesting and takes a dead mole from his nest so it can be buried next to Paulette's puppy so it won't be alone.

In one of the most emotional scenes of the film Paulette excruciatingly cries out, "We'll need more! Cats and hedgehogs and lizards...horses and cow and rattlesnakes... lions, tigers...and people!" Michel pauses at her words as he sees her expression full of confusion and pain. "If you want" he says. "And we'll plant crosses for all of them." She asks him, why plant crosses and Michel says, "didn't your parents teach you anything?" Michel then shows her a cross by breaking a branch in half and crosses it together telling her its the sign of God. Michel says he can make better crosses with hammer and nails and will put them all over the mill; in which that's where their own cemetery will be created.

That evening back at the house Michel is upstairs nailing boards together to make crosses as Paulette's learning the right words to use when praying to God. His father gets annoyed with the pounding and when seeing him making crosses gets very angry saying its wrong to make crosses when his brother Georges is severely sick downstairs and decides to separate the two of them.

Suddenly Georges starts spitting up blood in his bed and Michel is told to make a prayer for his brother; while Georges suddenly dies. Paulette goes up to Michel and asks, "Is your brother dead? Will you dig a hole for him?" Michel turns to her and says, "Are you crazy? he's my brother?" The next day Mr. Dolle is building a hearse for George's upcoming funeral, while Michel obtains more crosses for Paulette and their secret cemetery; even ones that are attached to his brothers hearse.

The next morning Gourd's son Francois arrives home from the military blowing a trumpet to let everyone in his family know. The Dolles' hear this as well and Mr. Dolle asks Michel to sneak on the Gourd property and find out whats going on. While Michel is doing that he sees some a chicklet out in their yard and quickly grabs one of them. When noticing Francois he runs back home telling his father Francois returned home. He then runs upstairs and gives Paulette the chicklet as a gift as she happily pets it. Later that day Paulette is grabbing flowers from the fields as she crosses paths with Michel's sister Berthe and Francois having a secret love affair; while Paulette and Michel are working on their cemetery making it more elaborate.

Later the next day during Georges funeral Paulette and Michel quietly count all the crosses in the church, while the Mr. Dolle is outside and realizes the hearse he built for his dead son is missing the crosses that were once attached to the top of it. He calls Michel out about them and Michel says he thought they were nailed on tightly. His father starts getting suspicious thinking someone stole them and Michel impulsively says, "Maybe the Gouards."

At the Gouards house the father tells his son Francois he would have went to the Dolles' funeral if he was told Georges died. When he disrespects their daughter Berthe; Francois defends her and says he wants to marry her.

Later on after the funeral service Michel is confessing in the confession booth and tells the bishop the stealing of the crosses on his brothers hearse. The bishop tells him he must return them and to go into the main hall of the church and pray for forgiveness. While praying Michel looks up at the bishops most beautiful cross above the altar and quietly climbs up on the podium to take it. While his sister is giving a confession on her secret relationship with Francois, Michel makes a huge noise trying to steal the cross and the bishop catches him and kicks him out of the church.

Later at home while the father is discussing to the family how he thinks the Gouards stole the crosses off the hearse Paulette and Michel are on the floor writing down the names of the dead creatures for their graveyard. They both see a cockroach crawling and while Paulette tries to pet it Michel kills it with his pencil pretending its a bomb that killed it. Paulette starts to cry and is angry at Michel so he apologizes. While going to bed Paulette tells Michel "I know a good place for a cross...the cemetery."

The next day while Berthe and Francois are keeping up their secret romance in the hay inside the barn Michel and Paulette walk in to get the wheelbarrow and catch the both of them. That evening after leaving the cemetery full of crosses in the wheelbarrow including the one that was on Georges grave, bombs are going off from far away; and Paulette is scared as they quickly rush home.

The next morning the family all decide to go visit Georges grave and when the Gourds family sees this the father decides to go to the cemetery as well to visit his dead wife to prove that the Dolles' aren't the only ones that lost someone. When the Dolles' arrive at the cemetery realizing the cross is gone from their son's grave Mr. Dolle is furious. Thinking the Gourd's must be behind this he starts to break the cross set in Mr. Gourds wife's grave and while doing this the Gourd family arrives witnessing it.

In a slightly humourous scene Mr. Dolle and Mr. Gourd get into a fist fight in which ends up in a newly dug grave. During their scuffle the Bishop arrives telling them to stop and tells the two that Michel's the one that's been taking the crosses. Michel quickly runs off and hides out in the mill where it now shows the complete construction of the graveyard Michel and Paulette created with all the crosses, flowers and burials of all the animals and insects. Michel doesn't come home that night in fear of being punished and his father says, "what could he have done with 14 crosses?"

Michel sneaks to the house during the evening and climbs up stairs to talk to Paulette. When Berthe is personally interrogating Paulette on what she and Michel did with the crosses Michel comes out and says to Berthe if she says anything he'll snitch on her and Francois for secretly fooling around in the barn. Michel then tells Paulette to come to the mill tomorrow morning because their cemetery they created is completed. He tells her, "All the crosses and names! I arranged some pebbles. All the animals are there and flowers too. Pieces of broken plate and snails!" Paulette smiles with delight in hearing how beautiful their cemetery is.

That next morning she comes to find Michel and they hed to their cemetery while French police arrive to the house. When Michel sees the police outside at his house he runs over closer to the barn with Paulette. When his father finally finds his son he tries to force a confession out of him on where the crosses are believing the police are their for the theft of the crosses. Paulette's crying while watching the altercation between Michel and his father and Michel says he won't say a word no matter what his father does.

Mrs. Dolle comes in and breaks them apart telling Mr. Dolle that the police are actually here for Paulette as she grabs Paulette and pulls her away. Michel yells "They can't take her!" His mother says, "they wont hurt her. They'll take her to an orphanage with other little girls." Michel pleads saying, "If I tell you where the crosses are will you keep her?" His father says this has nothing to do with it and so Michel says, "We'll give the crosses back and apologize to everyone. And she'll go to catechism and school and help around the home."

His father agrees so Michel finally reveals that the crosses are in the mill but before he explains why the police come in and say they are here for the little girl. They tell Mr. Dolle they will take her to the red cross but they just need Mr. Dolles' signature before they take Paulette away. Mr. Dolle signs the sheet they give him and Michel yells, "You can't! You promised! LIAR!! You'll never get them now!" and Michel runs out of the barn. He runs to the mill and pulls all the crosses out of the dirt and throws them in the river as he hears the police vehicle pulling away with Paulette inside.

 

ANALYZE

Cinema is a photographic trace of life. For that reason, it’s also a perpetual witness to mortality. Georges Poujouly, the child actor who stars, with Brigitte Fossey, in René Clément’s 1952 masterpiece Forbidden Games, died in 2000, at the age of sixty. But as Michel, the rude peasant boy at the beck and call of the imperious baby Paulette, he remains the image of enslaved, amorous youth forever. That’s both the consolation of cinema and the source of its hidden melancholy. For, naturally, most films repress the knowledge that they are destined to become graveyards teeming with ghosts. Forbidden Games is among the few that dare to break this ultimate taboo. Here is a movie obsessed—even besotted—with death. That the principal characters are at the beginning of life just deepens the scandal. We protest that children, in their touching defenselessness, must be shielded from death, pain, evil. In Clément’s film, these fundamental realities are prematurely thrust upon them by war. Yet the drama isn’t quite the traditional liberal indictment of militarism that one might expect. For once, the innocents aren’t turned into mere alibis for hand-wringing, editorializing, and moral blackmail on the part of well-meaning adults. As near as possible, Clément maintains the integrity of childhood—its aloofness, its impenetrability, its silence, which, beheld from the outside, can appear sinister. Technically, war is responsible for the strange, aberrant behavior of Michel and Paulette. To that extent, the film fulfills its ethical duty. But on a more profound level, death is answered by those dark, instinctual forces that reside in all children—in everyone, if we could only admit it.

The kernel of what would eventually become Forbidden Games was a somber and disquieting screenplay that its author, François Boyer, found impossible to sell. He expediently repackaged the contents as a novel, published in 1947 under the title The Secret Game and virtually ignored in France, but enjoying a major, if freakish, commercial success in America. Unexpectedly, it looked like a hot property, so Clément and the screenwriting partners Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost took Boyer’s film script–cum-novel and turned it back into a script. But that wasn’t the end of the movie’s tortuous prehistory. Forbidden Games was originally planned as a humble short subject—the middle section of a three-part omnibus film. This larger project got shelved after the financing fell through, and the existing footage composed no more than a vignette. But, impressed by its lyricism and grace, producer Robert Dorfmann urged Clément to expand the material to feature length.

Like many great films, then, Forbidden Games sprang serendipitously from a chain of accidents, failures, and stopgaps, none of which are remotely evident on-screen. Clément’s direction is so scrupulously measured, and the theme so archetypal, that every shot achieves the quality of fate. The French critic André Bazin judged there to be a novelistic control in the way the central situation is developed—astutely, inexorably, each psychological detail snapping into place. But if a literary analogy is sought, the film’s terse suggestiveness may be closer in spirit to a short story. While artfully embellishing the simple episode they started from, Aurenche and Bost (with the probable assistance of Boyer, who gets a dialogue credit) were careful to preserve its fragile, elliptical nature. Forbidden Games is a distinctly slender work. Which is to say that it’s exactly scaled to the intimate, laconic universe of children.

Set during the German blitzkrieg of Paris, in June 1940, the film opens with a mass of refugees fleeing the despoiled capital for the countryside. Suddenly, Luftwaffe planes streak into view, raining down terror and scattering the people on the ground like marbles. Clément choreographs the mayhem with a stark authenticity that validates his youthful training as a documentarian. At the same time, the scene is—ever so slightly—a pastiche or compendium of earlier war rhetoric in cinema. One shock cut (from a bomb dropping on the camera to a woman screaming in close-up) is straight out of Eisenstein, while the present-tense casualness of the violence evokes Roberto Rossellini’s Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946)—not to mention Clément’s own previous foray into neorealism, the Resistance docudrama Battle of the Rails (1945). The subtle quotation marks around the action hint that the movie is perhaps less “real” and more ironic than it’s cracked up to be. For already a certain fantasy dimension infiltrates the harrowing imagery of war. When bullets from a machine gun tear through the backs of Paulette’s mother and father, the murder feels sickeningly contingent. Yet pasted on the bridge where they happen to be (and almost subliminally planted in the frame) is an advertising bill for spiritualists—“masters of mystery.” Both the bridge and the river flowing under it are thereby instantly changed into supernatural objects: emblems of transience, gateways dividing the quick from the dead. Similarly, a horse pulling a driverless carriage at a furious gallop is both an ordinary frightened beast and an uncanny figure of doom. It’s this vehicle that Paulette capriciously follows, abandoning the contemporary slaughter, straying into an enchanted region where death will attain the perverse beauty of an idyll.

Her crossing over is signaled by the introduction of Narciso Yepes’s famous guitar solo. Naive and plangent, the music almost literally haunts the film, summoning an ache of nostalgia for some pristine era beyond memory. Forbidden Games partakes of myth, in the narrow anthropological sense, by generating its meaning from a network of structural oppositions: child and adult, city and country, male and female, human and animal, life and death, history and eternity. There’s a shade of screwball farce in the plot gambit that brings Paulette and Michel together—he bumps into her while chasing a runaway cow. And, indeed, numerous critics have caviled at the movie’s broad, cartoonish portrayal of rural manners. It’s true that Clément tends to patronize the folk characters as irredeemable clodhoppers (most disturbingly, in the episode where Michel’s father scuffles with a bellicose neighbor at the bottom of a newly dug grave). But it’s at least arguable whether the specific poetry of Forbidden Games doesn’t depend on striking just so salient a contrast—as though a thick, protective shell were demanded to enclose the sovereign space of the children’s play. When Paulette and Michel steal crosses from the village church to adorn their own private cemetery of dead fauna (first her beloved dog, Jock, then moles, crickets, cockroaches, butterflies, birds, worms, buried in a mounting frenzy), they are at once blasphemers against and parodists of the official religion that the grown-ups practice so emptily. Yet in a world where the currency of death has been cheapened, their crimes ironically restore to it a portion of its original sacramental awe and gravity.

Christian forms are simply the pretext. These ghoulish games seem finally to invoke something more archaic and terrible—a mystical awareness, which might be called pagan, of nature’s unending cruelty. But Clément respects the enigma, and each plausible interpretation of the children’s conduct slips helplessly through one’s fingers. It may be supposed that Paulette is a model trauma victim, incapable of absorbing her parents’ death and obliged to grieve for them at second hand. That’s the easy, clinical rationale, and war’s thunder does continue to echo distantly on the soundtrack, as if in corroboration. Still, it isn’t sufficient to account for the element of precocious eroticism that tinges her relationship with Michel, insinuated by the faint double entendre of the movie’s title.

Clément shot a bizarre prologue and epilogue for Forbidden Games, apparently designed to throw the audience off the scent. Michel and Paulette, reincarnated as perfect visions of sugarplum sweetness, sit down on a vast tree trunk, in an ethereal, sylvan setting, and proceed to read from a gilt-embossed storybook the words: “Never had the month of June been so lovely as that year . . .” After the tale has been told, the girl cries bitterly, and the boy pacifies her by improvising a happier outcome. This framing device (which anticipates by three decades a conceit employed in another equivocal war elegy, the Taviani brothers’ The Night of the Shooting Stars) was not included in the final version of the film. It may have been deemed too whimsically self-reflexive and conciliatory at a time when harsh realist transparency was the norm in art cinema. It certainly would have cushioned the devastating abruptness of the ending as it stands, which annihilates everything in a stroke, leaving an open wound of pure loss. Yet Clément must equally have recognized how these saccharine appendixes made his scam a little obvious. For here, all too cloyingly, are the children that most adults prefer to see—as angelic and innocuously cuddlesome as the tykes in The Sound of Music. At its subversive heart, Forbidden Games whispers the less palatable truth that children are a race of deviants and monsters.

Even as presently constituted, the film leads you up the garden path with studiously cute images of Paulette among baby chicks and “glamour” shots emphasizing her likeness to a porcelain doll. That’s the way the farmers treat this dainty import from Paris—as a poppet to be toyed with for a moment and then discarded. Cleverer than the rest, Michel is also more romantic. Defending Paulette and gratifying her every humor, he enlists himself as an eager swain in the service of a beautiful but arbitrary princess. When the uncouth rustic helps the immaculate maiden to ford a stream, the fairy-tale iconography affirms a charming case of puppy love. But the nymph betrays sharper appetites in the scene where, leaning coquettishly on her pillow, she accepts the dowry of two freshly slain hatchlings. Fossey has compared her infantile alter ego with Lady Macbeth, and she isn’t far wrong. To be precise, Paulette is a diminutive version of the femme fatale in film noir, batting her huge, liquid eyes and spurring the mesmerized hero on to ever greater acts of bloodlust—with one crucial difference: Paulette is no bad seed out of a horror movie, but a completely ordinary toddler. Though Clément doesn’t stipulate her motives, we may deduce that they involve plain childish calculations of self-interest. Having lost one source of security and well-being, she casts around her environment and pragmatically reattaches her desires elsewhere. The supreme tour de force of Fossey’s naturalistic acting occurs in the aftermath of the bridge disaster. Touching her mother’s cheek and then her own, Paulette puzzles over the rudimentary concepts of warm and cold, alive and dead. The impious rites with corpses, the whole film, might be explained by the necessity of returning, again and again, to this compelling riddle that reality has tossed up.

Michel is old enough to have acquired a degree of consciousness and what goes with it, a capacity for guilt. But as a moral being, Paulette hasn’t progressed much further than the barnyard creatures that show their obtuse faces to us intermittently. Forbidden Games is most paradoxical in demonstrating the equivalence of absolute innocence and absolute evil. A poisoned chalice, to say the least, the movie was, not surprisingly, excluded from competition at the Cannes Film Festival, though it went on to win the Golden Lion in Venice and an honorary Oscar in 1952. One is tempted to speculate that the Academy voters didn’t understand what they had, and mistook Clément’s mordant irony for a pellucid humanism along the lines of Vittorio De Sica’s Shoeshine or Bicycle Thieves. Nonetheless, the picture was established as a classic and held that position for many years. So why has it been neglected in recent times? The vagaries of Clément’s subsequent career may have dampened enthusiasm in hindsight. Drifting from a sex comedy filmed in England (Lovers, Happy Lovers, 1954) to a plush costume drama (Gervaise, 1956) to a tense homoerotic thriller (Purple Noon, 1960), he could seem an effete jack-of-all-trades, without the creative passion or stylistic coherence of a genuine auteur. But the coup de grâce had in fact been delivered long before, by one François Truffaut. In his blistering 1954 polemic “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema,” the future director of Shoot the Piano Player and Jules and Jim attacked not Clément, but his writers, the spectacularly successful team of Aurenche and Bost. He essentially accused them of having stultified French film by bogging it down in “quality” literary adaptations as genteel and polished as they were lifelessly uncinematic. It required a season or two for Truffaut’s venom to take effect, yet by the liberated nouvelle vague era, Aurenche and Bost had become watchwords for the clammy, moribund cinéma de papa. However unjustly, Forbidden Games was tarred with the same sweeping brush. Still, some of Truffaut’s more conservative strictures aren’t entirely beside the point. He objected, for instance, to the duo’s “mania for adding funerals everywhere,” which struck his residual Catholicism as cheap and sacrilegious. But it’s just this penchant that gives Forbidden Games its voluptuously morbid charge. For kiddie necrophilia, Paulette has no rival—unless it be young Tootie Smith, who ascribes four fatal diseases to her rag doll and babbles endlessly about homicide in Vincente Minnelli’s so-called family musical Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Much later, another little girl would use scrambled Christian ritual to commune with her deceased mother, in Jacques Doillon’s Ponette (1996). Yet Forbidden Games is perhaps the one movie wholly dedicated to the radical Freudian proposal that living matter seeks the comfort of oblivion. Seductive and troubling, it remains the chief embodiment of the death drive in cinema.

-Peter Matthews

Forbidden Games was the first film directed by Rene Clement which was based on a short he did on the same story. The great French director Jacques Tati talked him into making the story into a full length feature. Besides his exceptional thriller Purple Noon in 1960, which tells the homo-erotic story about a professional criminal and forger,Clement's career as a film-maker never quite took off after Forbidden Games.

When Forbidden Games was first released it was initially turned down by Cannes, then eventually was accepted after a scandal. It later won the Golden Lion as best film and won the honorary Oscar in 1953. One critic stated that the film itself should be forbidden and Clement was accused simultaneously of simplifying the war and inflicting its horrors too mercilessly on his actors. I find it interesting that Leftist critics accused him of an attack on the working class farmers and yet while watching the film I saw these peasant farmers as loving and generous. I also find it astounding that the actress who played Paulette was able to act this great only at the age of 5. Critic Roger Ebert says, "She remembers doing better than older actresses at the audition because she had no idea what stakes were involved; they were nervous, but she just went ahead and did as she was told. Clement shot around her character as much as possible, shooting close-ups of her looking at events so she did not really have to witness them, and she remembers attending the première at Cannes and seeing the planes attack the bridge for the first time. She was horrified."

When deeply looking into the story of Forbidden Games there is a sad and yet dark theme brewing beneath it, which is the theme of death. The strange behavior in Paulette and Michel's obsession with death and the bodies of the dead can appear sinister and morbid when looking at it from an adults point of view. But looking at it through the children's eyes and all that they have witnessed and seen gives their strange behavior much more understanding. Technically war is responsible for their behavior and how they look at life and death and the film brings out those dark instinctual curiosities and morbid fascinations within these children on the themes of death and necrophilia in which in human nature is natural; if we could only admit it.

Christian themes are obviously the subtext to the film and the actions the children are committing like stealing crosses from dead graves and making a secret cemetery of their own seems very sacrilegious and scandalous. But when analyzing these children you see Paulette as a victim of trauma who can't understand death and grieve's through these dead animals and insects which resemble her dead parents. Creating this cemetery gives her somewhat of a morbid comfort and understanding on why life is the way it is. I find it interesting that she grew up in a family which seemed to be nonreligious and maybe Atheist; and I'm not sure what the writer's intention was behind that. When she befriends Michel and his family they open her up to all new religious customs and hopefully these new Christian beliefs can give her a better sense of understanding and reassurance to the evils she had witnessed.

I am an Atheist but I was raised in a Catholic family and even though I don't believe God, I do believe it is good for many people to believe in it; especially children. It builds them a moral structure and gives them a feeling of hope, love and reassurance on the ethics of good and bad. The scene that resonates with me the most is when Paulette first buries her puppy and when Michel brings up the idea of creating their own cemetery with insects and animals; Paulette at the end suggests people as well; which shows how confused her conscience and understanding is on right and wrong and life and death. In some of these shots with Paulette around a living chicklet she looks like one of the happy angelic children from The Sound of Music but then the next scene is a complete contrast; where on her pillow she accepts the death of two freshly slain animals for her cemetery. The actress who played Paulette once compared her character to Lady Macbeth or the femme fatal in a noir film; but I think that's a little extreme. Yes, she does pressure the male to keep going out and killing; but the difference is she's not some 'bad seed' who is always maliciously plotting; but a emotionally damaged and confused adolescent who doesn't understand the basic concepts on life and death, and right and wrong.

They say a child's most important stages of development are between the ages of 3 to 6; and when you read in the paper on younger children who have killed it was mostly due to sexual or physical abuse between those young growing stages that disrupted their full understanding of human emotion. Since Paulette is only 5 she has yet developed a proper conscience on what is right and wrong or empathy and sympathy for other human beings. Near the beginning of the film when she touches her dead mother's cheek to feel it cold and then touches hers and feels it warm it makes her not be able to grasp the concept and understanding on the death of a life and causes her to be emotionally disconnected. And yet the scene where Michel kills a beetle with a pencil and says to her it was a bomb seriously bothered Paulette and makes her cry. Michel being ten is old enough to have a degree of understanding and consciousness and also a moral guilt. He looks at Paulette more as a playmate and a little sister too and wants his parents to take her in. Michel also loves Paulette and wants to be their for her, to protect and emotionally comfort her; because he knows and can see this child is damaged inside. The love between two children is so pure and simple in which they together can construct and design a fantasy world that brings out all of their wonders, joys and imagination; which takes them out of the harsh realities of life. I remember when I was a kid hanging out with a neighborhood friend down the street and we would create so many elaborate environments; whether it was a camp set-up in my bedroom or constructing a hideout in the woods, with windows and even booby traps for people we thought that would try to come in. (Of course the traps never worked properly.) Childhood is a very precious and wonderful thing; and is the most profound and significant time where a child's life can alter the future on how they think and how they feel. What's interesting is that Clement shot a bizarre prologue and epilogue for Forbidden Games which was to throw the audience off a little bit. Michel and Paulette are actually different characters who are perfect visions of happy loving innocent children as they are sitting down on a tree trunk in a sylvan like setting. In the prologue they're reading a storybook together (which starts the beginning story of this film) with the boy reading, "Never had the month of June been so lovely as that year..." When the epilogue occurs after the story has been told the girl cries and so the boy decides to improvise a happier outcome. This version is not included in the film cut of the film probably because it seemed too sweet and sugary compared to the harsh realistic stories mostly coming from Italian Neorealism; which were the norm in art cinema at that time. The real ending of the film didn't include the prologue and epilogue at all and just shows Paulette now at the Red Cross all alone with a name tag as she takes the last name of Dolle; Michel's last name. Lost in a crowd of people she runs out to a train station crying out "Michel! Michel!" and also cries out for her mother. She is now all alone as an orphan; and her future is uncertain. This is a perfect ending to a tragic story on the horrors of war and the effects of the children who witness it. I once in a while wonder what happened to a character like Paulette and for all the other thousands of orphans who had their parents taken from them because of the evils of war; and I always hope that they somehow make it through emotionally and spiritually to grow up and make the best of their lives.

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