FORBIDDEN GAMES directed by RENE CLEMENT (1952)
Running time: 86 minutes
En français avec les soutes-titres en anglais
I've made no bones about my sensitivity to wartime cinema, and Forbidden Games is no exception. The film opens with tiny Paulette (played by 5-year-old Brigitte Fossey) and her parents fleeing Nazi air raids and bombings, and bad things happen. I don't feel responsible for a spoiler, as most everything written about this film starts with telling you she's an orphan. She WASN'T an orphan, until enemy planes gunned down her family as they were fleeing Paris. (The casualties include a dog, something I INSIST people tell me beforehand, because I get very upset.) And so our little protagonist moves on, alone, just trying to keep daily life going — um, with the corpse of said dog in hand.
She finds a friend in country boy Michel (Georges Poujouly, who would later voice the animated Tintin series, among other things). He stumbles upon her during his daily farm routine, and the two make an immediate connection about family, life, war and death. The death part is the biggest deal. You're slackjawed watching these two small kids just dealing with the daily turmoil and loss that is wartime life, and you're arrested by the way they deal with the tragedy, in their actions and in their imaginations. They're protective of each other, and they're sacred in their weirdo kid renditions of the rituals we adults observe, religious and otherwise, for the sake of family and country without questioning.
Foreign war movies are eye-opening, for lots of reasons, but markedly because Americans have such a powerfully different experience of war. This is a story told in the countryside of France, whereas we are removed from things like, I dunno, random raids and removals, loss of life, living and keeping on even as little kids. We do find (spoiler) that little Paulette is a Jewish Parisian, and there's a whole element of her not praying to Jesus, of her appearing different from the farm family, of her having such fine city fabric for her dress — the Other upon the Other upon the Other.
And by the way, this little kid can act. Both can. They captivate you in a way only little French kids can. (This says nothing of next week's film, promise, fingers not crossed or anything ... )
After you've seen this, we can talk about Georges Poujouly in 1955's Les Diaboliques (one of the scariest horror/thrillers I've ever seen) and in And God Created Woman another time. Which reminds me: Please see And God Created Woman and Les Diaboliques — and brace yourself for both.