Monday, July 14, 2008

Les Enfants Terrible (1950) Film Review

Plot Summary - Unusual French-language film, based on the novel by Jean Cocteau, about what seems to be an incestuous relationship between a sixteen-year old youth, Paul, and his slightly older sister Elisabeth. After being pelted by a snowball enclosing a rock by Dargelos (a "bad boy" schoolmate) Paul must leave school for complete bed rest. Paul appears to have a crush on Dargelos as he keeps a photo of him dressed in drag (not to mention a number of photographs of young males tacked all over the wall behind his bed). Though Elisabeth is rather a shrew and the two siblings fight constantly, they happily share a bedroom where odd behavior is the norm - they play their secret "game" (normally played in Paul's bed - hypnosis is mentioned), she calls him "darling" and gazes at his face while he sleeps, he asks for her bed to be pulled closer to his, and they keep a collection of junk, including a gun, in a set of dresser drawers they call their "treasure chest". Paul's friend from school, Gerard, often sleeps over on the floor and the three of them take an excursion to the seaside under the lax supervision of Gerard's uncle. Paul and Elisabeth continue to bicker as they both try to get into a just run bath together, and the three young people shoplift (the siblings have a pact to only steal "useless" things) while uncle buys a new hat. When Elisabeth gets a job as a model, she brings home fellow model Agathe to live at their house, and to Paul's surprise Agathe looks exactly like the female version of his schoolboy crush, Dargelos (played by the same female actress that plays Agathe). Interesting relationships and rather strange behavior to follow.

Review - This is a really odd film which is a wee bit surreal and very strange in nature - the plot is really interesting and different with implications of both bisexuality and incest. The background music running through this is classical, the photography beautifully done with many extreme facial close-ups - the film is highlighted by a voice-over narration done by Jean Cocteau that tells the inner thoughts of the characters as they interact. The relationship and sexuality of the two siblings is very complex - the majority of the film takes place in their bedroom haven, their shared childhood room that they just don't seem to ever want to grow up and leave - they also seem to spend the majority of the film dressed in bathrobes. Nicole Stephane, the actress who plays Elisabeth is really good in this, very memorable - Edouard Dermithe who plays Paul, looks quite a bit older than sixteen, but it works (and he does resemble Stephane). The DVD of this from the Criterion Collection features a print that is very clear black and white, with a great deal of contrast - the subtitles were especially easy to read on this DVD version. An excellent film - I believe this one will stick in my head for some time to come. Rating - 10/10 stars

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