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Forbidden Games  

Some of the hardest films to make must be the ones in which children are the primary focus. It's one thing to have to direct cranky and spoiled Hollywood grown-ups, but it's quite another to have to direct children, who may not even understand fully the project which they are involved in. Sometimes it can result in some difficult questions about morality and art, especially when the work in question deals with a touchy subject. The French film Ponette dealt with a child's reaction to the death of her mother, and the lead child actress (all of four years old) is put through numerous gruelling scenes involving her childlike perception about death and the afterlife, and about religion. Another French film, Ma Vie En Rose, dealt with a young boy's habit of dressing up in girl's clothes. Many people see these films as great examinations of life through the eyes of children, and that may be true (Ponette is a powerful picture), but then I'm now reminded of a comment my cousin made when we watched an anti-drunk driving commercial, in which the only scene was that of a baby crying helplessly in his crib, the context being that drunk driving has taken away the caregivers of this helpless creature. My cousin was rather offended, basically saying that, damn the message, no one should allow a child to suffer through that for the sake of art!

Again, we have a film which presents a powerful subject through the eyes of very young children, and which may be troubling to people who question the use of child actors for such material. The 1951 French film Forbidden Games deals with a very odd and somewhat disturbing theme, that of two children obsessed with death while World War II rages on. A four-year old, Bridget, has lost her parents during a bombing raid. Stranded, with only the body of her puppy, also killed in the attack, she wanders onto the property of a farm family's. The youngest boy, Michel, finds her, and successfully persuades his father to allow her to stay. After this, the two children create some very twisted games.

The "games" begin when Bridget wants to see her parents again, and Michel tells her that they would no longer be where they were killed at, but in a hole. His reasoning is so they would be protected from the elements, like the rain. She remembers that she left her puppy in the woods, so decides to bury it. The local priest sees this girl as she is making the hole, and tells her to recite a prayer which will quicken her parents' ascent into heaven. Of course, what she ends up doing is recite the speech for the dog.

This seems all well and fine, but then these kids do something which really baffles, even as it logically proceeds from the events I`ve just described. Michel tells Bridget about a cemetery, which he explains exists so the dead people won't get lonely. So they decide to give the dead dog some company, by burying other dead animals. They also decide to make crosses for each grave, and when Bridget sees real images of the cross at the cemetery, the church and in other places, Michel does the unthinkable and actually steals crosses from all of these places, culminating in a shot where we see the animal cemetery, elaborate as any human cemetery.

All of these scenes are very interesting, but I'm still at a loss to explain what they mean. The fact that the story takes place during the war is probably meant to give a level of significance which the film probably doesn't need, and which may confuse viewers, when all the film easily could have been was a pure examination of child behaviour. Ponette only needed the simple, personal fact of the main character's emotional experience after the death of her mother, and perhaps Forbidden Games only needed the personal details too, instead of placing the story in the context of a war. Certainly, the movie successfully portrays the purity and simplicity of the thought processes that these kids experience when thinking about death and the iconography that surrounds it. Also, the movie emphasizes the separation between adults and children; the two kids live in a world completely of their own making, which the adults will never understand. The result of these misunderstandings is that the adults make choices involving the children which they believe are helpful, but which the children do not.

Overall, I think that there are some great moments in this picture, and is certainly a landmark in the cinematic depiction of children. I suppose I've heard so much about the fact that this movie takes place during the war that it has clouded my impression. I was looking for some heavy statements about war and its effect on children, when it is just as easily a statement about the children's view of the world, with or without war.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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