Les Enfants Terribles (1950)
March 22, 2018 3:09 AM - Subscribe

In a snowball fight between schoolboys the handsome Dargelos hits the chest of Paul, who drops unconscious to the ground. Paul has a deep affection for Dargelos, and later denies that there...

Les enfants terribles: Hazards of a Snowball Fight (Gary Indiana, Criterion): "This legendary collaboration between résistant Melville and collabo Cocteau, who also wrote the screenplay and provided the narration, seems neither to have been a grudge match nor a picnic. Cocteau admired Le silence de la mer and approached Melville about filming his novel. Cocteau’s choice of Melville may have been influenced by the writer’s desire to turn his latest flame, Edouard Dermithe, into a movie star (an endeavor likelier to succeed if Dermithe worked with a director besides Cocteau himself). On Melville’s part, it would seem odd to follow one thanklessly adapted famous novel with the adaptation of another famous novel, but he genuinely liked the story, and it was a project that was sure to draw money (which was desperately scarce at the time). As Melville probably anticipated, critics endlessly parsed the finished film to decide what belonged to Cocteau and what came from him. Melville later said he had been “flattered” to be chosen by Cocteau, adding that he “quickly got sucked into it.” Cocteau wanted far more control than Melville would give him. When the author tried to change his own script, Melville told him that if he planned to write a new Les enfants terribles, he wasn’t interested in filming it. Melville gave way on two points that he regretted: the casting of Dermithe as Paul and the “updating” of the action from 1929 to 1950. When Cocteau “inadvertently” called “cut” in the middle of a scene, Melville had him thrown off the set. In Melville on Melville, the director acerbically speculates that Cocteau hoped Melville would die during shooting, so Cocteau could simply take over the film. In the end, Cocteau’s screenplay turned out to be an almost literal transcription of his book. Melville’s transposition is architectural, musical (and to some extent a matter of casting)—like Le silence de la mer, a masterful, poetic rendering of words into images."

Jamie S. Rich (Criterion Confessions): "Midway through Les enfants terribles, the titular children, strange brother and sister duo Elisabeth (Nicole Stéphane) and Paul (Edouard Dermithe), create a game where they must each shoplift something entirely useless from a seaside store. They even force their spineless pal Gérard (Jacques Bernard) to go along with it, sending him back in for another, larger item when he breaks the rules and turns up with a hair brush. Jean Cocteau, the narrator, who also happens to be the author of the film and the novel it is based on, informs the audience that this pointless action has been undertaken simply so the kids can feel they are dangerous, nothing more. Random cruelty with no result. It's the nutshell scene of Les enfants terribles, the moment that crystallizes the themes and the characters."

Into the Realms of Light and Darkness (Neel Chauduri, Senses of Cinema): "Cocteau claimed that he only ever exposed wounds. Les Enfants terribles begins with an act of violence, exposing the first of many wounds in the narrative that bleed and fester through its course. Almost none of these are physical; until the very end, the heart and mind are subjected to far greater afflictions than the body. One begins to wonder whether the terrible siblings under Cocteau’s watchful eye and eloquent pen are in fact, Love and Cruelty, cohabiting in a claustrophobic space where nothing is simply down to cause and effect. It is always clear that one cannot be indulged without enduring the other. Agatha admits to putting up with Paul’s insults only so that she can be near him. Like their androgynous physical counterparts (Paul and Elisabeth, Dargelos and Agatha), Love and Cruelty are sometimes revealed as being indistinguishable, and become victims of their own abstraction."

Contentious Collaboration: Cocteau, Melville, and 'Les Enfants Terribles' (Chadwick Jenkins, Pop Matters).

Jean-Pierre Melville: Life and Work of a Groundbreaking Filmmaking Poet (Cinephilia & Beyond).

Jean-Pierre Melville: cinematic poet of the lowlife and criminal (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)

posted by sapagan (1 comment total)
I came out of this movie more sympathetic towards Elisabeth than I expected. The discussion I'd read beforehand called her monstrous. Well, she's not nice. But Paul is one of those infinite sucks of everything around him.

This one's on Kanopy right now, so if you have access through your public library, you can probably stream it.
posted by praemunire at 9:18 AM on March 23, 2018

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