Coming Of Age, Second World War

Forbidden Games (1952)

The innocence of our childhood is something that we sadly never retain as we grow older. We often look back to our childhood years and yearn for that time again. I think we have this yearning because our early years were simpler, and we were not aware of the horror and pain of the adult world.

Rene Clement’s haunting, beautiful, and deeply moving coming of age story, captures this childhood innocence perfectly. His film also captures this idyllic time being shattered. He does a good job of depicting a moment (that must come to us all)in which the children lose their childhood innocence and finally see and enter the adult world. The film reminds me quite a bit of Whistle Down The Wind, and if you enjoyed that film then I think you’ll enjoy this one too.

This film is a war film that is notable for focusing not on the soldiers and battles, but on the ordinary people caught up in the war who have to carry on living in a war zone. It is rare for war films to focus on the toll on civilians during wartime, so it’s nice to see this one focusing on that a bit. The opening sequence of an air strike shows how quickly and randomly people are killed in war. Showing all of this from a child’s perspective gives it even more power as the horror and confusion is heightened.

Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly give two of the most moving performances in film history. The fact that they were both so young when they starred in this really makes their performances all the more remarkable. I think they both really deserved some kind of award for their work here. They both make your heart break as we watch what they go through, especially during the last few scenes of the film.

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The film is set in France, in 1940. The Second World War is raging and people are being killed. Paulette (Brigitte Fossey)is a young girl who is fleeing into the countryside with her parents, and her pet dog, Jock. A German air strike kills her parent and injures Jock who soon dies. Confused and traumatised, Paulette wanders along a riverbank carrying her dead dog, and she ventures deeper into the countryside. She is found by Michel (Georges Poujouly)a slightly older child who is the son of a poor farmer. His family take in Paulette and try and care for her. Paulette has no concept of death and doesn’t understand what has happened to her parents and dog. We see her try to make sense of world without them in it.

Paulette and Michel develop a strong bond and become inseparable. Paulette is obsessed with death and she and Michel try and leave the reality of their world behind. They retreat deeper and deeper into their own little world, and they build a graveyard in which to bury the bodies of dead animals (including Paulette’s beloved dog)that they come across.

The pair steal and make crosses to use as headstones. Michel doesn’t fully understand that stealing is wrong, but you can see he sort of knows he shouldn’t be doing it; Paulette on the other hand has no idea that what they are doing is wrong and she doesn’t understand the anger and annoyance of the adults when they discover the children are to blame.

I like how the children see all life, not only human, but animal too as being sacred and meaningful. They feel that animals should have graves and be remembered too. I also like how kind and compassionate the children are shown to be, whereas the adults are mostly depicted as being angry and selfish. Michel’s parents have moments where they are kind and tender but they are few and far between.

I always think this film is telling us that we take life more slowly and feel things more deeply when we are children. Quite why we lose that nobody knows, but it is a sad fact of life that we end up becoming hardened and less inclined to see the wonder in our surroundings as we age.

This is a film that stays with me long after it’s finished. This is a film that gets into my heart and soul, I feel with and for these two children and I get angry and upset every time I watch because of what happens at the end. If ever there was a film that I wish had a different ending it would be this one. Having said that though, this ending is certainly realistic and shows that something has to happen to us all to spur us into our adulthood. If only in this case that something didn’t have to be quite so sad and cruel. 😦  The ending to this film makes me cry each time I watch.

Interestingly the Blu-ray I own includes an alternative opening and ending. These sequences show Brigitte and Georges sitting by a river reading a story (the book that appears in the opening credits)and we understand that Paulette and Michel are just fictional characters. These sequences have a dreamlike or fantasy look about them, and I guess they serve to make the film less upsetting. I think not featuring them was the correct choice though as the emotional impact of the ending is what makes this film both powerful and unforgettable. It’s nice to see these sequences though.

My favourite scenes are the following. Michel and the owl at the end of the film. Paulette’s first night in her new home. Michel helping Paulette not to be afraid of the dark. The fight in the graveyard. Paulette walking through the country carrying Jock. The first time we see the completed animal grave. Michel trying to catch the escaped cow.

I consider this to be one of the best coming of age films there has ever been. The acting is excellent, the music is beautiful and the film is one you don’t forget in a hurry. I’d say this is one of the best French films ever made. What are your thoughts on this film?

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Blogathons, Coming Of Age, Page To Screen, Romance

The June Allyson Blogathon: Little Women (1949)

june-banner-1Simoa, over at Champagne For Lunch is hosting this blogathon about June Allyson. This year is the centenary of June’s birth, and I think it’s lovely to be marking this event with this blogathon. Be sure to visit Simoa’s site to read all the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

June Allyson was a very radiant actress. She had one of the brightest smiles of anyone I’ve ever seen. June was also a very bright and bubbly person. She had a very distinctive voice and she is an actress who always makes me check out films if I see that she is in them. Although I don’t consider myself to be a major fan of June’s, I do like her very much and I greatly admire her acting talent.

My favourite of her film performances is as Jo March, in the 1949 film adaptation of the novel Little Women. This version and the one from 1994 are my favourite screen versions of this lovely coming of age story. These two versions capture the warmth and intimacy of the novel for me. I don’t like the 1933 film version, as I think the actors in it(especially Katharine Hepburn)overact their roles something fierce and this spoils watching that one (for me anyway). 

In the 1949 film, June brings the character of the tomboyish Jo to life so well. June completely becomes this frustrated, warmhearted, outgoing, adventurous and passionate young woman. She also captures Jo’s passion for writing and the joy that it brings her.

As the film goes on, Jo matures and grows into quite the young lady, and June really captures that change so well (watch her body language, emotions and mannerisms.) Compare how she acts in the first half of the film to how she is in the second half of the film.

June shows us that as Jo gets older she finally becomes more comfortable with being a woman and acting as her sisters do (properly, as was expected for the time period). Jo also finally accepts that it is okay to actually want to fall in love and be a wife, and she doesn’t mind that change entering in to her own life as much as she did when she was younger.

Jo is still very much herself in the second half of the film, but she doesn’t seek to shock or raise eyebrows with her behaviour as before. Jo still speaks her mind, but she becomes more tactful and respectful of tradition/custom when doing so. June conveys all of this to us through emotion, body language and expressions alone. It truly is a remarkable performance and is one that I never get tired of watching. I firmly believe that she gives one of her best performances as Jo March.

The 1949 film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The film features strong performances from all the younger members of the main cast: June, Janet Leigh, Margaret O’Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford and Richard Stapley.

Rossano Brazzi, Mary Astor, Lucile Watson and C. Aubrey Smith all provide solid support as the various adults in the sisters lives.

The story follows the lives of four sisters, from their childhood to their adult years. The film is set in New England. The March family consists of four sisters; there’s the practical and beautiful Meg (Janet Leigh), the tomboyish and big hearted writer, Jo(June Allyson), the shy and gentle Beth (Margaret O’Brien) and the vain and funny Amy (Elizabeth Taylor).

The girls live with their mother (Mary Astor) and their loyal housekeeper Hannah (Elizabeth Patterson)while their father (Leon Aymes)is away fighting in the Civil War. Their only other relative is the wealthy and crotchety Aunt March (Lucile Watson).

The sisters are befriended by the lonely Laurie (Peter Lawford)their young neighbour who hates the restrictive life he leads with his grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith). Laurie becomes a great friend and source of comfort to the March family. As they grow up, Laurie falls in love with Jo, but she doesn’t return his feelings. Jo is against change, she hates it with every fibre of her being and she just cannot see why things can’t stay as they are. Meg finds love with Laurie’s tutor, John Brooke (Richard Stapley) and the two get married. I love watching their relationship develop, they also go on to have a very loving marriage where they are equals (which was rare I think for the time period).

Jo’s refusal of Laurie’s proposal later in the film breaks his heart. Jo goes to work as a governess in New York. While she is there she finds herself falling in love, but with someone totally unexpected, the much older Professor Bhaer (Rossano Brazzi). When Jo and the Professor fall in love, Jo realises that this change in her life is not as unpleasant as she thought it once would be.

A personal tragedy leads Jo to write a novel about her life with her sisters. It is published to great acclaim and Jo’s hard work as an author finally pays off.

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While Jo is undoubtedly the star role here, I think that the actresses playing the other March sisters all get their chance to shine throughout the film. To me Leigh, Allyson, Taylor and O’Brien all feel like an ensemble, and I don’t think that they ever outshine one another too much.

Janet Leigh is terrific as the eldest sister, Meg. She makes you see that Meg would love to be pampered just once in her life. She has had to grow up before her time though in order to help her mother around the house.

Elizabeth Taylor is absolutely hysterical as Amy, the self centred, food lover of the family. Amy may be self centred but she loves her family deeply. She would do anything for her family and friends. Taylor steals every scene she is in.

Margaret O’Brien (one of the best and most natural of the classic era child stars)is heartbreaking as the fragile Beth. She is the sister beloved by all who meet her. She may be young, but she is very wise too.

Peter Lawford is very good as Laurie. He shows us how Laurie comes to life through his friendship with the March family and becomes as outgoing as they are. Lawford is heartbreaking in the scene where be admits his feelings for Jo, only to have his hopes dashed.

Rossano Brazzi (swoon!)  🙂  is utterly loveable as the patient, gentle and kind Professor. Watching him slowly falling for Jo is so sweet. Brazzi lets us see how much this man cares for Jo and how he also respects her as a woman and as a writer.

Mary Astor is almost saintly as the loving mother of the sisters. Astor plays her as the mother everyone deserves to have. She is kind, honest and wants her girls to be true to  themselves above all else.

The great character actor C. Aubrey Smith steals every scene he is in, as Laurie’s gruff, old fashioned and stern grandfather. Mr. Lawrence is actually quite a softie underneath that hard exterior. The scene where Beth thanks him for giving her the piano moves me to tears every time I watch this. Smith died shortly after filming his role in this and this was to be his final film.

I love the set design in this film especially for the interiors of the March home; that house really has the look of a lived in space, filled with personal items and it has a very warm and cosy look about it. The costumes are also beautiful, especially the ladies gowns. I especially love the yellow dress Amy wears when she visits Jo in New York. The films music by Adolph Deutsch is the prefect accompaniment to the story we are watching.  

A lovely coming of age story, filled with strong and memorable performances. June is the films heart, and her performance in this is unforgettable.

My favourite scenes are the following. The girls buying Christmas gifts for themselves and then taking them back to exchange for gifts for their mum. The Professor singing in German and explaining the meaning of the words to Jo. Amy comforting Beth after they hear some horrible gossip about their family. Mr. March returning from the war and hugging each of his family. Laurie’s proposal to Jo. Mr. Brooke proposing to Meg. Beth thanking Mr. Laurence for his gift to her of a piano. Jo and Laurie dancing. Jo revealing she has cut her hair short and sold it. Amy letting Beth have her last cake. Meg telling Jo off for her improper behaviour in public. Amy and Aunt March visiting Jo in New York.

This is a beautiful film about family, love and about being true to yourself. This is a comfort film/story for me and it is one I return to again and again. In terms of personality I see myself as a mix of Jo and Beth, and I can certainly relate to some of the choices these two sisters make and to their respective personalities.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this film. What do you think of June’s performance as Jo? Please leave your comments below.

 

Coming Of Age, Page To Screen

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 6: Stand By Me (1986)

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This is one of the best films out there about friendship. It is also a fantastic coming of age story. The film shows us how precious and sometimes how fleeting friendship can be. People come in and out of our lives over the years, some find a permanent place in our hearts and lives, while some sadly become nothing more than a memory.

When I watch this I’m always reminded of my own childhood. During the primary school years, and into my early teens; I was part of a trio of friends who were so close that we were just like sisters. When the High School and College years approached we sadly drifted apart and hardly saw each other. As the years passed we saw even less of each other, until eventually we were no longer in each others lives. I will never forget either of them, nor will I forget the many happy times we spent together.

I love Geordie’s final line in the film about never having had friends like the ones he had when he was twelve , because that is just so true;  your childhood friendships will always be special due to the fun you had and the innocent period of your lives this took place in. Friends will come in and out of your life, but those childhood friends will always be in your heart.

Stand By Me is directed by Rob Reiner, and is based on the book The Body by Stephen King. It is set in the small town of Castle Rock, Oregon during the 1950’s. A young boy goes out to pick berries and fails to return home. A search fails to find him and he is presumed dead.

A group of friends – gentle and recently bereaved Geordie(Wil Wheaton), excitable and adventurous Teddy(Corey Feldman), wise and tough Chris(River Phoenix)and nervous and talkative Vern(Jerry O’Connell)- decide to go looking for him, thinking they might get an award(or at least some publicity)if they find him. Over a two day hike the boys are forced to quickly come of age and face up to the harsh realities of life. Their bond grows stronger and they have an adventure they will never forget.

I love this film so much because the characters and what they are going through are so relatable. We all had something happen to us when we were young that made us realise what life is really like, it sadly can’t all be fun and innocence for ever.

During the film each of these boys becomes stronger in some way and goes through a life changing event.  The performances from Wheaton, Phoenix, O’Connell and Feldman are extraordinary, given how young (and relatively inexperienced)they were as actors at the time. They are so natural and come across as a group who really could be friends. They look like they are having loads of fun in the scenes like the water spitting, walking the train tracks and their comic arguments and discussions.

Phoenix in particular is excellent as he plays the father figure in the group, and he is someone who has already grew up in many ways unlike the others. I love how protective he is of the others and how he has to act responsibly all the time. The scene where he breaks down and reveals his sadness is so moving and Phoenix makes your heart break for him.

Feldman makes Teddy’s anger totally believable. You really believe this is a troubled kid, he still loves his dad despite what he did to him. He is strong but of them all, he is probably the most vulnerable, although he’d never admit it.

O’Connell is the films comic relief, as the talkative and to the point Vern. I love how proud he is because he has brought a comb with him, so they can look good for the cameras. Vern is the one who says or does what most of us would do in some of these situations we see in the film.

Wheaton is the shy, sensitive and underappreciated kid who finds an inner strength he didn’t even know he had.  He undergoes the most change in the film, and Wheaton portrays it so well.

Kiefer Sutherland is menacing as Ace Merrill, the local bully and fearless/unbalanced leader of the gang called The Cobras.  Ace and his gang are also on their way to look for the boys body. Ace and his gang are the terrifying possible future that awaits Geordie and his friends; young men whose innocence is long gone, hardened due to life experiences and bad behaviour.

John Cusack is Geordie’s older brother, Denny. I love their relationship as it is one of the sweetest and most moving I’ve ever seen.  Denny is a football star and is popular in the neighborhood, he is the apple of his parents eye.

When the film opens, Denny has been dead for a few months. His death was unexpected and destroyed his parents. Geordie is grief stricken too, but doesn’t know how to deal with his grief, he hasn’t even cried for his brother yet. Denny’s death is made even sadder when we learn that he and Geordie were so close, and that Denny made their parents pay attention to Geordie instead of focusing on him all of the time. With Denny gone, Geordie is barely noticed at home and only has his friends to turn to for support and to talk to.

Richard Dreyfuss plays the elder Geordie, looking back on his bittersweet childhood memories. He also serves as the films narrator.

My favourite scenes are the following. The water spitting scene, especially the bit where Teddy spits his at Vern(it’s one of those moments that you can see coming and can’t help laughing at.) Chris saving Teddy from his suicidal train dodge. Geordie seeing the deer. Geordie’s story about the pie eating contest. Chris telling Geordie to take the college classes. The boys running from the train. All the flashback scenes between Geordie and Denny. Ace holding his nerve driving straight at an on coming truck. Vern debating with Teddy about whether a cartoon character could beat up Superman. Chris telling Geordie about the milk money.  The end where we learn what happened between the boys.

A moving and funny film about friendship, love, adventure and children coming of age. There is some gorgeous scenery in this and the on location work really adds to the authenticity of the story. There’s also a cracking soundtrack, featuring the title song by Ben E. King.

I always feel like I’ve walked the tracks with these boys and that I’ve experienced some sort of life changing event myself whilst watching. This is a great favourite and one of the best pieces of work from both Reiner and King.

Please share your thoughts on the film below.