Forbidden Games takes a look at how children grieve, how they learn to live in the face of death. Forbidden Games takes place during World War II, directed by René Clément with grace and delicacy. In its opening minutes, Paulette is orphaned, her parents gunned down during the Battle of France. Her last link to the just-present is her dog Jock, but that link is dead too. She just doesn’t realize it. She wanders with her dead pet and pretty soon a cow runs up to her. The cow jump-starts her tears, but she tells farm boy Michel that cows don’t scare her. It is clear the cow is a catalyst, provoking Paulette’s emotional recognition of her newly orphaned state. In case clinging to the dead Jock didn’t make it clear, animals, death and grief now become inseparable to the child.
Grief turned into comfort. Grief poured into a child’s project. Grief as a shared way of bonding. By abstracting death into the shape of a cross, it becomes palpable and somehow reliable. Paulette and Michel don’t know exactly what they are doing or why they are doing it, but they give themselves to it whole-heartedly, stealing when necessary to help piece together their pet cemetery. They pick apart Catholic ritual and make it their own. Paulette stumbles into a farm far where the war is somewhat distant, present through newspapers, the sound of planes overhead, deserters and death from other causes. Conflict comes in neighborly squabbles. The world of the adults and children collide when their grieving indirectly escalates tensions. The forbidden games stop and Paulette and Michel are forced apart. What Michel and Paulette created together wasn’t a world of daydreams but a world where they saw themselves as blankets for the dead. Even this is snuffed out.
My chosen shot:
Michel walks up the stairs to visit Paulette who is still sleeping in her bed of white, surrounded by the greys of a modest farm life. The boy has brought her a dead chick as a present; a new addition to their cemetery. She is delighted. He knew she would be. She takes it in her hands, petting the animal. The omnipresent strum of Narciso Yepes’ score in the background as Michel looks on. ‘Are you happy?’ he asks. ‘Yes’ she replies. ‘Swear it wasn’t you who killed them?’ ‘No’. She talks about her burial plans for the animal as she continues to pet and comfort the dead thing.
Paulette is an angel in this shot. A bed of white, offerings brought to her like a deity, her hair translucent. The shallow focus makes the hay above her head look like a halo. This shot illustrates the shape Paulette’s grief has taken. This idea of grief turned into comfort. Paulette wants to be the source of that comfort for these dead animals, but really she is a source of comfort and protection for herself. In a film full of religious imagery and showing the way that symbols can take on meaning for us, René Clément makes Paulette a symbol here. She cushions her own trauma as she lies in her bed. Paulette and Michel’s way of coping with death lies at the heart of their burgeoning friendship and at the heart of the film.
Some other favorites: