Les Enfants terribles (The Strange Ones) Reviews
Director Jean-Pierre Melville breathes fear into a frivolous, fleeting story, and ensures it aptly descends into a semi-Shakespearian game of hearts.
Nicole Stephane is superb as scheming sister, Elisabeth, but it's Melville's musings - both visual and lyrical - which turn Cocteau's ambiguous tale into an tangible event. Infantile hearts die hard.
"Les Enfants Terribles" is a darkly entertaining tale of family tragedy and how family while comforting can also be the worst of traps at times. So while the movie has one eye on the past, it also has another one on the future, as these young people have already had more than their share of experience with death. That not only the involves the complicated feelings the characters have for each other that they have a hard time expressing despite all the words but also the movie's anticipating the French New Wave in its character structure and linking narration.
Sometimes an older film can be dumb-foundingly over my head. The cultural period in which the film was made has changed so much that the ideas behind the decisions made during production are severely obscured. The result is a picture that is not only out of it's time, but also hard to read.
Les Enfants Terrible is a perfect example of such a phenomenon. So many questions were floating around in my head that shouldn't have been. Questions such as "is he gay?'', and "is there a strong sexual tension between these characters or is that just me?" as well as "is such acting behavior normal for the 50's" . In fact, i was half expecting the picture to turn into some kind of art-house ghost story because of my unresolved questions.
As it turns out the actual intended story is little more than ridiculously contrived love triangle with certain details added in for controversy as an excuse to call the picture a avante-garde work.
Though the picture has some nice moments of ethereal surrealism. Once the smoke cleared, disappointment set in.
A quite conspicuous clash comes from the cast, to wit Edouard Dermithe, the leading protagonist as Peter, who would not be Melville‚(TM)s first choice but thanks to Cocteau‚(TM)s relentless insistence (Edouard is said to be his lover at that time), notwithstanding his dandy contour is unable to deliver any conceivable conviction which his role should have embodied, no matter how many close-ups swooping upon his statuesque face, it is certainly beyond the rescue even Melville had exerted himself to the upmost. Nicole St√ (C)phane and Ren√ (C)e Cosima, on the other hand, are the messiahs of the cast, several emotion-eruption takes are right to the point.
At least Melville still manifests his capacity is other department of the films, the cinematography from DP Henri Deca√ę infuses very seclude intimacy during the siblings‚(TM) scenes when a whiff of incestuous ambiguity permeates the whole frame. When the setting moves to the grand apartment in the latter part in the film, the spiderweb of deconstructing an immoral subterfuge foiled with riveting and labyrinthine shots culminates the film with a quite amazing coda, which by no means should be even scarcely credited for Mr. Dermithe.
So the win-win combo seems not to fire up to one‚(TM)s expectation, and it is a quite qualified candidate needs a remake, then who is the proper person at the helm? I dare to suggest Jacques Audiard if one must be French.
The story resembles a Shakespearian tragedy wherein all events feel more symbolic than realistic. Paul (Edouard Dermithe, whose career was almost nothing but Cocteau-related projects) and Elisabeth (Nicole Stephane) are same-aged siblings -- their characters seem about 17 years old. As the film opens, they have a sick mother and rely on a maid. Their relationship has a heavy incestuous undercurrent, and they sleep in the same room without concerns for modesty.
While Paul is at school, his friend Dargelos (Renee Cosima, masquerading as a boy) hits him in the chest with a snowball. Paul collapses, bleeding from the mouth. The snowball seemingly contained a rock but, even so, it doesn't make sense that Paul is so grievously injured. Perhaps Dargelos's betrayal was the true wound.
Paul is sent home to convalesce in bed, while Elisabeth tends to him. Here, we learn they're strangely fixated on what they call "the game." It is not well-explained, but apparently involves trying to top each other with harsh words and cruelty. Most of the film centers around their salty, self-involved interplay, and Elisabeth is such a loud, relentless shrew that many viewers may be turned off. Eventually, the pair's friends Gerard (Jacques Bernard) and Agathe (Cosima again, interestingly) become important figures in the psychological warfare. Elisabeth also marries a rich youth named Michael, who ensures that she and Paul can sustain their insular, pampered lifestyle. During the final act, the dialogue eerily echoes amid the giant halls of Michael's mansion -- which only adds to the film's dream-like atmosphere.
"Les Enfants Terrible" is consistently stylish and intriguing, and fans of Cocteau's Orpheus trilogy shouldn't overlook this less famous work. However, Cocteau is also responsible for the film's biggest flaw: His intrusive narration is grossly overused. Many quiet moments would be more evocative if the audience was left room for its own personal impressions.