Les Enfants Terribles

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A group of high school age boys are throwing snowballs at each other during a recess of some sort. A boy puts a rock inside one of the snowballs and chucks it at a dashing blonde haired young man. The snowball hits him square in the chest and he goes down. People rush to his side and carry him away, leaving a small trail of blood behind. This strange incident starts off an even stranger film.

Paul is the name of the boy who was hit by the snowball. After that fateful day, he is no longer well enough to attend school and is forced to be bedridden. He is attended by his slightly older (although the man who plays Paul would never be mistaken for a high school age kid. He is clearly in his mid-twenties, but no matter. ) sister, Elisabeth, who also attends their dying mother. These two share a unique relationship made all the more crazy by the fact they share a bedroom. They play pretend and get into verbal arguments that are as impenetrable as pig latin. But there is something off in their relationship. They act more like lovers than brother and sister. Through a series of events that I won’t bore you with, Elisabeth acquires a fortune and a couple of friends that would do anything for her and Paul. They never go out but instead lie around this vast mansion in bed all of the time. One friend loves Elisabeth while the other loves Paul. The film tries to explore a weird foursome type situation, but it can never quite pull it off. You never know why their friends find these two siblings attractive or even interesting. They just seem to be whiny little bitches that channel their feelings into rage filled speeches.

That last sentence may give you an indication on how I felt about this film. I am ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t like it very much. This shame stems from who is behind this piece of work: Jean Cocteau and Jean-Pierre Melville. I have written on here before about how much I love Jean-Pierre Melville, so I won’t bore you again. But the mere fact that he directed this film means that I should have liked it. I probably would have if it wasn’t for Jean Cocteau. I don’t think that I have mentioned him here before, so I will try to give you a brief synopsis on why he matters to the history of film. Cocteau’s work stems from a theatrical point of view, mainly because that is where he got his start. He was a playwright that transitioned to novelist, artist and finally filmmaker. His one work everyone remembers him for is the french Beauty and the Beast. Made in his signature style, the movie set the standards for how the story will be portrayed in popular media for decades to come. I have to admit that I hold a nostalgic candle for the Disney version of the Beauty and the Beast so when I heard about this movie being a major influence on it, I figured I would like it a lot. I was very wrong. I hated the way the story was told even though Disney’s version so obviously stole a ton of things from it. I didn’t like Les Enfants Terribles for the same reasons I didn’t like Beauty and the Beast. Despite the amazing texture the sets, the lighting and even parts of the performances create on-screen, the film dies once it tries to tell a story. The plot points just lie naked and dead on the ground, waiting for someone to pick them up which no one ever does. This movie should have been a gripping tale of sibling jealousy or even a fascinating characters study of someone who is forced to take care of people all of her life and thus demands unfailing loyalty from them. Instead the movie is full of incomprehensible games and lying around. It doesn’t say anything about the human nature of their predicament nor does it give you any juicy bits of dialogue to sink your teeth in. I lied. The last scene of the film is the only time the emotions are raw enough for the dialogue to really sing. But having to get through an hour and a half of annoying banter puts a damper on the impact of that scene. I wanted to like this movie much like I wanted to like Beauty and the Beast. I wanted to be able to tell people who Jean Cocteau is a master full of amazing insights and sumptuous designs. But I am afraid I can’t. I am not going to give up trying, though.

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