Forbidden Games is the title of a 1952 French Coming-of-Age movie directed by Rene Clement. Nowadays, such a title is likely to bring to mind associations with controversial messages and themes as the result of the constant brainwashing by most western media. But the French classic, based on a novel by Francois Boyer, focuses on the harsh reality of war and its impact on children.
Set in the first years of WWII, the story of Forbidden Games centers around a friendship that develops between Paulette, a young girl whose parents are killed in an air raid, and Michel – a boy who lives on his family’s farm in the countryside. As is common with films about war that have young protagonists, the center of attention is the effect that war has on the environment in which the children live, on the adults who surround them and on the children themselves, as opposed to being about battles and bloodshed (An exception is the 1975 Russian film by director Elem Klimov – Come and See).
As the movie opens, an air raid occurs which takes the lives of Paulette’s parents. It is the only action scene in the film, with the rest of the story taking place in the farm house and its surrounding area — where Michel takes the young girl.
Despite or because of all the horrors that surround Michel and Paulette, and the imminent threat to their innocent existence, the children manage to keep their youthful spirit alive by playing a game. It’s a forbidden and repellent one in the eyes of the adults, but essential for the kids who are struggling to cope with the realities of life and death at such a tender age.
Some scenes in the film are filled with emotion — like the one in which the little girl embraces her dead puppy, refusing to accept that it is dead, or perhaps not realizing death’s finality. While witnessing how the little orphaned girl acquires a knowledge of life, religion, and death from her protector Michel, a child himself, I lamented the passing of their innocence. While Forbidden Games is not manipulative or overly sentimental like some of the other Coming-of-Age films about war that I have seen, the film still gets its anti-war message across by focusing on life and death, love and hatred, as seen through the innocent eyes of two children growing up in war time.
Movie still from Forbidden Games
As the film was released just a few years after the end of the war, it should not come as a surprise that it is filmed in black and white. In the past year or so, I have developed a strong interest in black and white pictures. Their shades and nuances often give the story a sense of depth that is more persuasive than if one was to see the story shot in color or with modern 3D gimmicks. I have already discussed the advantages of black and white images in my review of the 1932 film The Red Head and, so as not to repeat myself, I’ll simply state that it only takes seeing one fine film shot in black in white to fully appreciate that style. You may recall that The Artist, a recently released French movie, received many positive reviews from critics and won many awards.
In a movie that centers on childhood, good performances by the young leads is essential. Forbidden Games features one of the most poignant and natural performances I have seen by the young Georges Poujouly in the role of Michel. He portrayed his character with extraordinary sincerity, perceptivity and artistic control. Brigitte Fossey was equally convincing, which for such a young actress is a real achievement. Directing actors of such a tender age is a challenge on its own, but Rene Clement managed to get the best out of the talent of the two young actors. The film marked stunning debuts for both actors. Both Georges Poujouly and Brigitte Fossey went on to have successful cinematic careers.
Forbidden Games did not disappoint with its ending: a grim open–ended finale. While some people prefer happy endings –in most cases I tend to dislike escapist entertainment. Thankfully these days, even big studios such as Warner Bros have realized that an idealized finale is not always the most appropriate way to end a story (recall the ending of the 2012 film The Odd Life of Timothy Green).
Undoubtedly Forbidden Games is one of the best anti-war films I have ever seen and so I don’t hesitate to recommend it highly. The movie won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and is available via a DVD release thanks to the Criterion Collection. Although the DVD has an English dubbing added, I highly recommend watching the film in its original language and subtitles.
Film title: Jeux interdits
Also known as: Forbidden Games
Release year: 1952
Director: René Clément
Cast: Georges Poujouly, Brigitte Fossey, Laurence Badie, Madeleine Barbulée, Suzanne Courtal and others