Monday, 12 November 2007


It is quite wonderful to find a film which, although you can't quite figure it out on first viewing, you recognise immediately as a classic. I happily admit to not understanding much of LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES. I am a great admirer of both Jean Cocteau (who wrote the original novel) and Jean-Pierre Melville (who directed the film) and I have waited years to see this. As it was made early in Melville's career I think I expected that Cocteau was the true auteur behind this production but it seems that Melville was very much in charge, taking care that Cocteau (who visited the set most days) did not dominate the production - insisting on his own ending rather than Cocteau's preferred one and demanding, when Cocteau did one day of shooting due to Melville being unwell, that the poet film nothing unless he followed Melvilles's instructions to the letter. One writer has pointed out that this gives the film a somewhat schizophrenic atmosphere. Maybe it does but that does not automatically harm what is was going to be a pretty weird movie anyway. A brother and sister (probably incestuous) live in a Paris apartment with their dying mother. The boy is sixteen (played by Cocteau's former lover Edouard Dermithe - Cegeste of the ORPHEE movies - who was twenty five at the time and looks too old to be wearing short pants in the early scenes) and his sister (the wonderful Nicole Stephane) slightly older. Their mother dies, they go to the seaside with a friend, they shoplift and the girl becomes a model. She brings home a girl as a lodger but her brother is disturbed because the girl reminds him of an effeminate young man who once injured him with a snowball (are you still with me ?). The sister marries a rich American who croons at the piano (the fact that he looks like a young Billy Joel adds to the surrealism) and who is killed soon after the wedding. The siblings and their two friends move into the American's huge mansion where they seemingly camp out (no pun intended) in the half empty rooms - where secrets are revealed and mind games played that move the film it its inevitable tragic finale. As the film progresses it becomes more surrealist and dreamlike with Cocteau's narration suggesting it is all a performance anyway. The whole thing is totally hypnotic on many levels and certainly isn't your basic Saturday night at the moves fare. It is, perhaps, not 100% successful but if you are a Cocteau fan you will love it, if you are a Melville fan you'll want to see it, if you are a fan of classic cinema you won't want to miss it. The BFI DVD also contains a moving interview with Nicole Stephane and a commentary which I look forward to hearing. Rating ****

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