Thursday, September 4, 2014

Jeux interdits

TCM's monthly Guest Programmer, director Richard Linklater, shows up tonight, although accoridng to the promo running on the channel and the blurb at the website, he's only presenting three movies. Tonight's fourth movie, Forbidden Games at 4:00 AM, is apparently not being presented by Linklater. It's also the only one of the four not available for purchase from the TCM Shop.

The scene is the French countryside in June of 1940. Those of you who know your history will realize that this isn't only World War II; this is the time when the Nazis were invading France before it capitulated and Germany set up the Vichy regime. So people were fleeing Paris, trying to make it to safety somewhere, even if they didn't know where that safety wsa going to be found. In other words, it's a mad dash as the Nazis are coming after the Parisians, strafing them along the way. Among those in the exodus is the little girl Paulette (Brigitte Fossey), her parents, and her dog. Unfortunately for Paulette, the Nazis get both of hre parents, as well as her dog, leaving her an orphan. But she refuses to believe her dog is dead, so she picks up the dog and starts walking to, well, wherever.

Eventually, she's discovered by a boy not much older than she is. That boy, Michel (Georges Poujouly), is the youngest son of one of the farming families in the area. He'll take her home with him, because really, what else is there he can do, just leave the orphaned girl to die? But first, there's the matter of that dead dog. They have to bury it, if only for the sake of hygiene; leaving dead bodies around is dangerous. But it's also important that there be a proper burial at the abandoned mill, which includes a grave marker and, since the boy comes from a devout Catholic family, a makeshift cross.

Life at the farm is tough, as there's a lot of hard work, and not much to go around. Having another mouth to feed isn't something they wanted, but again, it's not as if the family can just let her die either. But Paulette is just a little girl, much younger than everybody in the family save for Michel, so she's sort of left to her own devices until it can be figured out what to do with her. For her part, Paulette begins to wonder: if her dog can have a proper grave, why can't the other dead animals? So Michel and Paulette start burying other dead animals. It wouldn't be so bad if they were making makeshift crosses out of tree branches or what not, but Michel starts stealing crosses for the animal cemetery. And this, understandably, causes big problems when all the adults start wondering who's taken all the crosses.

Forbidden Games is a moving film, dependent entirely on the performances of the two child stars. Thankfully, they're much more natural than some of the child stars the Hollywood studios gave us back in those days. The parents are also much less tolerant -- and frankly, understandably so -- than parents in Hollywood movies. As much as movies like I Remember Mama or Our Vines Have Tender Grapes may be well-made, there's something about them that feels to be looking back nostalgically. Forbidden Games feels much more realistic, down to the poverty faced by the farm family compared to that not faced by the family in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. The story also feels different from what Hollywood would ever have done, and develops at its own pace, done well all the way around.

I don't know if Forbidden Games is still in print on DVD. You can apparently get it at Amazon, but not, as I mentioned at the beginning, from the TCM Shop. So you may want to record tonight's TCM airing if you haven't seen it before.

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