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Rene Clement's 1952 adaptation of Francois Boyer's 1944 novel is an exquisitely pragmatic film about the corruptive effect of war on children. Fitting then that the wartime movie received a “G” rating upon its release.
The documentarian-turned-feature filmmaker Clement tells the horrifying story of devastating familial loss from the eyes of two traumatized adolescent protagonists.
It is June, 1940. After her parents are killed beside her on a street leading out of Paris during the Nazi blitzkrieg, five-year-old Paulette (played by Brigitte Fossey) reaches out to compare he mother’s dead cheek with her own.
In this one bitter moment the filmmaker sums up the depravity of all wars. Things can only get much worse before they get better. Paulette may have survived the attack, but she is doomed as a human being.
The newly minted refugee carries her dead dog with her. She doesn’t even cry because she isn’t old enough to even begin processing the cataclysmic loss she has just endured, much less imagine a future for herself. Death will forever be her constant companion, mentor, and parent. War has turned Paulette into a monster in the blink of an eye.
Later, Michel Dolle (Georges Poujouly), a 10-year-old peasant boy, discovers Paulette wandering alone in the countryside. Michel naturally convinces his family to take the little girl in to live with them.
Puppy-love blooms. Sadism arrives.
Paulette requests that Michel go out and kill animals to add her private animal cemetery in an abandoned mill. Stolen crucifixes are a necessary part of Paulette’s alter of death. This little female Hitler has plans to eventually include human corpses in her collection. What starts out as a children’s game has far greater implications for the future. The traumatized little girl attempts to reenact her parents’ deaths that haunt her conscious and sub-conscious thoughts.
"Forbidden Games" caused a scandal when it was released in 1952 because it co-opted a fictional story and embellished it with the recent realities of World War II. The film is every bit as controversial today for its transparently fuming view of the permanent damage that war inflicts on its youngest survivors. You’re never too young to repeat the atrocities of your elders, is a message that comes across loud and clear in this disturbing film, made all the more powerful via Rene Clement’s neo-realist approach.
At the time of this picture’s release, Rene Clement was already a household name connected to war films due to his popular Resistance docudrama “Battle of the Rails” (1945) and “Les Maudits,” about intrigue on a German U-boat near the end of World War II.
Clement’s early years spent studying architecture informed his ability to articulate the power of buildings, streets, bridges, rivers, and objects over the variable ability of children to extrapolate personal truths about their place in the world around them. Hope is just so much wasted effort in the face of bombs.
Not Rated. 86 mins.