Coming Of Age, French Cinema, Second World War

Forbidden Games (1952)

The innocence of our childhood is something that we sadly fail to retain as we grow older. We often look back to our childhood years and yearn to have that time of innocence and simplicity again. I think we have this yearning because our early years were (in most cases) far simpler, and we did not understand the horror and pain of the adult world.

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The children at the bedside of a dead man. Screenshot by me.

Rene Clement’s haunting, beautiful, and deeply moving coming of age story captures this period of idyllic childhood innocence perfectly. His film also captures this innocent time being shattered. He does a good job of depicting a moment (that must come to us all)in which the children lose their innocence and finally see and enter the adult world. The film reminds me quite a bit of Whistle Down The Wind, and I think that if you enjoyed that film, then 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 the film shows an air strike, and it shows us just how quickly and randomly people can be killed in war. Showing all of this from a child’s perspective gives the sequence even more power in my opinion, as the horror and confusion of the moment is heightened.

                              Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly. Screenshot by me.

Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly give two of the most natural and 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 to me. 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.

The film is set in France in 1940. The Second World War is raging and people are being killed and injured. 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 instantly kills her parents and also injures Jock, who soon dies from his injuries.

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Michel and Paulette meet for the first time. Screenshot by me.

Confused and traumatised, Paulette wanders along a riverbank carrying her dead dog in her arms, and as she walks she ventures deeper and 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 they 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 trying to comprehend and make sense of a 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 that he sort of knows he shouldn’t be doing it; Paulette on the other hand has no idea whatsoever that what they are doing is wrong. Paulette doesn’t understand the anger and annoyance of the adults when they discover the children are to blame for the thefts.

I like how the children see all life, not only human, but animal too, as being sacred and meaningful. The pair feel that animals should have graves and be remembered when they die just like humans do.

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.

                                    The animal graveyard they build. Screenshot by me.

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 alternative 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 with 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 story is one that 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?

I am entering this into Thoughts All Sorts Foreign Language Film blogathon, being held July 2018. Click here to read all the entries for this blogathon.

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Dystopian, French Cinema, Page To Screen, Science Fiction

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film is an excellent adaptation of the acclaimed 1953 novel of the same name. The novel was written by the American Sci-Fi author, Ray Bradbury. Both the book and the film highlight that the desire to open yourself up to new ideas will never (hopefully not)die.

Books give us access to new cultures, worlds, ideas, and perspectives. Both the film and the novel also highlight that when something is forbidden to us, that ban only increases our curiosity about, and a strong desire to seek out the banned thing.  Fictional novels also allow us to relax and to take a break from reality. How is that break different to watching a drama on TV? Reading exercises your brain and imagination, you see in your head the characters, the locations, the clothes etc.

Reading is an experience unlike any other as it is your mind which brings the words to life. Written words are among some of the most powerful things to be found on this earth, some people don’t like that fact, and they want to silence some of those words and control access to them.

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Books are burnt by the firemen. Screenshot by me.

This is a film that made a very strong impression on me when I first watched it a few years ago. As a book lover it makes me so mad to see books being destroyed in this film. It makes me even more angry to see the gaining of knowledge, and the use of ones own imagination, being denied and controlled by the state.

The film also depicts people addicted to drugs, and when they run out, more drugs are given to them by the state. Many people have to take stimulants, most likely to stave off the frustration and dullness of what the reality of this life is. 

It is not hard to see the eerie similarities in the film to the notorious book burnings in Nazi Germany. That state also controlled what was taught, what people did and didn’t do. It also ensured that all citizens followed a strict and controlled life. As we know, if anyone didn’t conform, or anyone took a stand against the Nazi’s they were killed or imprisoned.

This film is also very interesting to look at from a visual perspective. The futuristic buildings look sleek and very Art Deco, yet they also look cold, and there is nothing unique about them (reflecting the confirmative society the film is set in.)  The suspended monorail on which people travel to and from work is also very interesting visually. I think that reflects the futuristic leaps made in engineering/transport in the future. This sequence was filmed at the SAFEGE monorail test track in France.

When I watch this film it makes me think of what books mean to me. Books are a vital part of life for me, just like breathing in the air is vital for me to survive. I simply cannot imagine being without books. It sickens and scares me when access to books is denied, or when they are destroyed.

I’m not a fan of E-books, or of Kindles either, they hurt my eyes, and I find them very impersonal. While this technology may encourage some people to read (which is always a fantastic thing to achieve)I do not want them to ever replace real books.As far as I’m concerned nothing will ever be able to replace the special feeling of holding a book, or of borrowing a book from a Library, knowing that many readers before me have turned these same pages and gone on the journey I’m about to embark upon.   

Francois Truffaut’s superb film is set in a future where books (and the reading of them)are banned by law. Some citizens still read books in secret though, if they are discovered they are reported to the authorities. Firemen are then sent after these people. The firemen seek out and burn the books in these peoples possession.

With public libraries being closed all around us (or threatened with closure), with younger people being hooked on their phones, TVs, and computers instead of reading physical books or engaging face to face with other people; I would say that this film is terrifyingly relevant for our society today. Too many people are nowadays content to sit back and binge on the rubbish being churned out online or on TV instead of engaging with real life and using their own brains and imagination. 

                Julie Christie as two very different women. One is a TV addict, the other is a book lover. Screenshot by me.

Many in society are now just like the TV addicted zombie like people who are depicted in this film. Many young people now don’t even read, and they have zero interest in ever doing so! Their loss I say, but doesn’t it worry anyone else how dumbed down things are becoming in society at large? It seems like fewer and fewer people are avid readers, and that technology is taking over our lives. If this is the future, then it is not one I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

In the future society seen in the film, books and the reading of them are banned. The state controls the lives of its citizens, and all are expected to watch TV for all (or for most of the )day. Some people still read books in secret, if they are discovered the authorities send firemen after them. These men, clad all in black, search for books, and when they find them they burn them. The title of the book and film refers to the temperature at which book paper burns at.

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Montag gets curious about books. Screenshot by me.

Montag (Oskar Werner) is one of the firemen, he is a yes man (like the majority of his society)and he sees nothing wrong in destroying books. When he meets schoolteacher Clarissa (Julie Christie)he starts to question his entire way of life. He himself becomes a hunted fugitive after he is caught reading.

Montag must also make a choice between the two women in his life. Should he make a new life with Clarissa, or remain with his TV addicted, glamorous, drug dependent wife, Linda (also played by Julie Christie. ) This man must make a choice between living a restrictive life, or living in seclusion and being allowed to have intellectual freedom.

Oskar is superb as the man who slowly begins to have his eyes opened to the cruelty and evil being committed daily around him. He starts of as a very closed off character emotionally, and then turns passionate, angry and horrified. His performance is all in the eyes, keep watching him closely throughout.  This is one of my favourite performances by him.

Julie Christie shines in a duel performance. She is vibrant, passionate, and outgoing as Clarissa. As Montag’s wife Linda, she is self centred, brainwashed, chic, and so very dull.

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The sadistic Captain. Screenshot by me.

Cyril Cusack is marvellous as the loathsome and cruel Captain who is Montag’s superior officer. This man takes sadistic pleasure out of burning books, and in causing great distress to the people who read them. Cusack is excellent and he steals every scene he is in.

Bernard Herrmann composed the music for the film and it adds greatly to the film. It is a mystical, beautiful and very ominous soundtrack, and its presence is a big part of the overall film experience.

Excellent performances, and striking images abound in this terrifying vision of a possible future for mankind. This is my favourite Truffaut film, and it is one that contains a story that will impact viewers very strongly. The way in which Montag discovers books can be shared without getting caught is very powerful as yet (thankfully)nobody can read your thoughts, and they also can’t eradicate your memories or emotions.

My favourite scenes are the following. The first time we see the firemen. The opening title sequence (this shows us that this is a TV controlled and conformist society.)Montag reading his first ever book. The old woman burning herself alive so she can die with her books. Clarissa asking Montag if it was true that firemen used to put out fires, instead of starting fires. The finale in the woods. Clarissa and Montag’s discussion in the cafe. Montag being pursued by the flying policemen. Montag’s wife participating in the nationwide TV programme. The Captain getting what he deserves.

Interestingly the film also depicts something that has now become a reality for us today. TV is now such a major part of life, and many people are sadly glued to a screen more than they take part in real life. Many people now have big flat screen TVs, many also now have multiple TVs in their home (one isn’t enough obviously), and some people even watch tiny TVs (now phones)at times too. Knowing that all of this was predicted by Bradbury and depicted by Truffaut decades before it came true, is something that I find to be quite spooky.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.