On the occasion of writer/director René Clément’s centennial I thought we’d take a look back at his award winning 1952 film Forbidden Games. This drama about children and grief during World War II won the NYFCC foreign film prize, BAFTA’s best film honors and a special Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (before the category was permanently introduced). Though Clement made other important pictures (Purple Noon, The Walls of Malapaga, Is Paris Burning?) let's just say this one comes with a fair amount of prestige baggage.
I had never seen the picture but given my long history covering Oscar’s foreign film prize, where World War II and stories about children are both privileged frequently whether or not they’re “special”, my expectations weren’t enormously high. But the film more than lives up to its lauded reputation. more
With very little lecturing, fuss or fat (the film is a tight and well paced 85 minutes), Clement manages to touch on an abundance of heavy topics: faith, childhood, class, war, and especially grief in the face of unthinkable loss. Though the topics are heavy the film never feels weighted down with self-importance as so many sober war pictures do. The very odd but smart fusion of child’s eye point of view and adult gallows humor (I almost went with a comic shot of an entire family staring down into a grave where two neighbors --both still very much alive -- are fighting), keeps the picture buoyant and lively even when its delivering its most devastating blows.
Graveyards are everywhere in Forbidden Games and the crux of the plot revolves around two children who cope with their confusion and grief by burying dead animals.
My choice for best shot, arrives just before the final scene. It’s the first of two endings essentially, since each child has earned their own ending. Michel, who has just been separated from his seemingly inseparable friend Paulette, destroys the pet cemetery they’ve been building in an abandoned mill. He tosses the mismatched decorations and crosses they've collected like two kleptomaniac magpies into the nearby stream. Except one. Paulette’s stolen necklace (a rosary?), the last remaining souvenir of their grief-stricken friendship, he presents to the owl who continually surveys their hand-made cemetery from his ceiling perch. (Michel seems to believe the owl is impervious to death in ways that man and other beasts are not.) “Keep it a hundred years,” Michel says before hanging it beside the owl, who tracks this last gentle gesture – complete with a pat on his feathery head -- with curious impassivity. He's not unlike the God who Paulette and Michel keep praying to as they mimic their religious elders, the absent one who watches all these atrocities from his safe perch in the heavens.
The 'Best Shot' Club
- Antagony & Ecstacy on the divide between children and adults
- Amiresque sheds forbidden tears
- Cinema Enthusiast sees an angel of death
- Serious Film on respecting childhood through unvarnished truth
- The Film's The Thing the alternate reality of childhood
- Ben's Talking Pictures on the mysteries of children
- Film Actually sees makeshift grave markings
- We Recycle Movies takes comfort in dead things
- Encore Entertainment even in warmth, suggestions of darker things
Next week we're taking on Quentin Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN for his 50th birthday. Join us by choosing a best shot and posting it online.