Les Enfants terribles (The Strange Ones) Reviews
Nicole Stephane, as the icy, dominating sister, gives an intense performance to offset the bland, innocuous presence of Edouard Dermithe as the brother with a weak heart, who nearly gets killed in a snowball fight in the semi-fantastical prologue. Cocteau's gender dissociation, carried over from the novel, forms the basis of the brother's lifelong quasi-relationship with his would-be "killer"; later on, the boy reappears, played by the same actress, as the beautiful friend of his sister. Most of the story deals with the sister's bizarre, unmotivated manipulations of her brother's "romance", testing the limits of his "weak heart". Glaringly obvious symbolism aside, Melville makes sure the story doesn't get bogged down in melodrama, keeping the pace nice and fluid.
"Les Enfants Terribles" is first and foremost a Melville joint; while he honors the original text, there are occasional digressions and stylistic decisions that're totally his. The sister falls in love with a rich Jewish fellow, who clogs narrow French country lanes with his gigantic Chevrolet sedan, later serenading the siblings with an Irving Berlin tune on his grand piano. When he bequeaths the mansion to them, they live in the massive parlor (watch out for the checkered floor!) and re-create the cramped living conditions of their formative years. Most every scene in the increasingly grim second half is lit like a noir, or perhaps a German expressionist horror film with its stylized, stage-like set. When the sister produces a .38 automatic at a dramatic high point, it's eerily similar to the climaxes of most of Melville's existential gangster epics.
With exquisite camera work and lighting, "Enfants" is always a joy to watch even if its moribund storyline reeks of Cocteau's personal hang-ups and obsessions. At least it's a pure fusion of methodologies, if not wholly satisfying.
En gros, c'est 1h45 d'engueulade puérile de deux enfants rois avec un accent énervant. Je n'y ai vu aucune "poésie", aucune finesse ou rien de ce dont les fans de Cocteau se réclament. Les personnages sont mous, creux, sans psychologie, à l'exception des deux protagonistes qui doivent être dans le panthéon des pires petites merdes de tous les temps.
Ça a beau être du Melville, ça a beau être du Cocteau, mais en tant que film, est-ce vraiment intéressant? En tous cas ce n'est pas ma tasse de thé. On peut bien reconnaître une certaine qualité de réalisation et deux ou trois scènes intéressantes, mais l'ensemble m'a paru plutôt plat, ou en tous cas loin de mériter toute l'attention qu'on lui donne.
I have to say that from the very opening, the film gives the impression of a universe within a universe, at the same time integrated in and separated from the world we know. It?s not so much through the power of the two protagonists that we are transported into this special place, but through that of the magic spell weaved by the cinematography, with its deep shadows and silver sheens, and the music, with its undulating, hypnotic accords that seems bent on whisking you away to a place only known by them.
Back to the two protagonists, the two brothers living closely together, sharing a room and a world of their own, where the meaningless becomes meaningful and all worldly coordinates as the others perceive them are thrown off balance. The driving force of this universe is Elisabeth, she is the one who sets everything in motion and who magnetically draws everyone near, but the center of her world is her brother Paul. Together, the two form an impenetrable and, to outsiders, difficult to understand whole, to which though, the former are drawn in an overtly tragic manner. To the two siblings, everything is possible, not because it is made possible through a series of means, but simply because it is. Elisabeth is from the beginning, as revealed through both her actions on screen and narration, a favorite of the narrator. The adjectives used to describe her, the way she is portrayed set the scene to her becoming the perfect tragic heroine. She is proud, passionate, fearless, in opposition to her brother who is described as feeble, weak, effeminate, character traits which will, in the end, bring forth their downfall.
The film is riddled with beautiful sequences, some illustrating the playful childishness of the character, some dreamlike, eerie and almost magic, but throughout the whole film, even in the lightest of moments, the feeling that there is more than meets the eye is ever present.
The problems I had with the film consist mostly of some scenes and relationships which I felt were poorly developed. I read a review of the Ashes of Time Redux by Roger Ebert a while back, and in that review he was making the point (paraphrased very loosely here) that sometimes an author can get into the heads of their characters in such way that they lose focus of what they are or aren?t rendering on screen. I might be sorely mistaken but it somehow seemed to me that it was a bit the case here. Some of the scenes and relationships weren?t properly set up, and details were left to the voice over to be filled up. Now this could very well have been an attempt of centering the film on the two protagonists, but in a few instances, this happened in situations that were precisely trying to establish and illustrate reports from within the aforementioned universe of the two protagonists, so with that in mind, I have to stick to the idea that the film would have been better served by the better development of a few scenes.
Overall, a beautiful, tragic film, which I will most likely be thinking about for a while to come.