Saturday, April 09, 2016
Les enfants terribles
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and written and narrated by Jean Cocteau that is based on his novel, Les enfants terribles (The Terrible Children) is the story of a strange relationship between two siblings who live by themselves until they bring outsiders to their home. The film is an exploration into the world of siblings and the close bond they have as well as what happens when jealousy and aspects of the outside world come to them. Starring Nicole Stephane, Edouard Dermithe, Renee Cosima, and Jacques Bernard. Le enfants terribles is an odd yet ravishing film from Jean-Pierre Melville.
The film is a simple story about the strange relationship between siblings who are very close yet the people who are around them notice something is odd with their relationship. It’s a film that really plays into not just how close these two siblings are but also in the fact that it’s a relationship where it’s the older sister Elisabeth (Nicole Stephane) is the dominant as she tries to take care of her brother Paul (Edouard Dermithe) who had been injured from a snowball fight due to a hit in the chest from a boy he has feelings for. The film’s script by Jean Cocteau doesn’t just explore Elisabeth’s need to care for her younger brother but also in trying to deal with his own naiveté towards the world with the help of one of his friends in Gerard (Jacques Bernard).
While it doesn’t feature much of a traditional structure as it is very loose in its storytelling. The script is more about the behaviors of Elisabeth and Paul with the latter being quite controlling as she also has to be maternal and lead her own life. When she gets a job as a model where she meets a young woman named Agathe (Renee Cosima), things get more complicated as does the relationship between the siblings. Especially as Agathe looks a lot like the boy Paul had a crush on where Elisabeth does try to move on but certain events force her to live with Paul, Gerard, and Agathe where she tries to stir things to cause all sorts of trouble for her own gain.
Jean-Pierre Melville’s direction is very entrancing for the way he captures the relationship between two siblings who are full of fire and personality. While there is a lot of intimacy that goes on inside their bedrooms and apartments where Melville uses a lot of medium shots and close-ups. It plays into how close Elisabeth and Paul are as siblings but also in the fact that they’re also quite different with the latter being dramatic as well as be very fragile due to the illness he would endure for much of his life. Melville’s usage of low and high camera angles would come into play into some of the places and rooms the characters are in as it adds a lot to some of the drama as well as where Gerard and Agathe would fit in as they’re observers who cope with being in an environment that is lavish but also quite chaotic and, at times, toxic. Melville also provides some of the voiceover narration from Cocteau as it relates to the characters and their situations along with elements of surreal fantasy and events that would shape them.
Notably in the second half where Elisabeth would marry an American but the marriage wouldn’t last because of circumstances beyond anyone’s control where much of the third act takes place in this mansion where it is very surreal. Especially with some of the strange imagery that Melville would put in as it relates more to Cocteau’s visual style with its statues and elements of fantasy. Particularly in a scene towards the end where Melville would infuse Cocteau’s own idea of imagery into something that is dazzling but also foreboding into the chaotic relationship between Elisabeth and Paul. Overall, Melville creates a riveting and provocative film about a strange relationship between siblings.
Cinematographer Henri Dacae does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to play the look of not just Paris and the French Riviera but also in some intricate lighting for some of the interiors such as the rooms in the homes they‘re in and the way the light sets a mood for the scenes. Editor Monique Bonnot does excellent work with the editing with its stylish usage of transition wipes, a few trick cuts for some of the surreal moments, and other rhythmic cuts to play into the drama. Production designers Jean-Pierre Melville and Emile Mathys do nice work with the look of Elisabeth and Paul’s room in the home they lived with their mother as well as the lavish home they would later live along with the design of Paul’s room.
The costumes of Christian Dior are fantastic for the look of the dresses and robes that Elisabeth and Agathe would wear as well as what they would model in their jobs. Sound editors Jacques Gallois and Jacques Carrere do terrific work with the sound in capturing some of the antics that goes on in the city along with the quieter moments inside the homes of the characters. Much of the film’s soundtrack features a lot of compositions by Antonio Vivaldi as well as a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach that features some Vivaldi arrangements as it plays into a lot of the drama that looms throughout the film.
The film’s wonderful cast includes some notable small roles from Maurice Revel as a family doctor, Adeline Aucoc as the family maid Mariette, Roger Gaillard as Gerard’s uncle who invites Elisabeth and Paul to his vacation while helping them out, and Melvyn Martin as the American Michael whom Elisabeth would meet and fall in love with until circumstances end things. Jacques Bernard is excellent as Gerard as a friend of Paul who helps out with the family as he finds himself being caught in the middle of things while trying to being the one to tell them what is going on outside of their home. Renee Cosima is fantastic in a dual role as Elisabeth’s friend Agathe whom Paul would fall for only to deal with the chaos of the family and as Paul’s schoolmate Dargelos as the one who would make Paul ill while being a sense of anarchy for the school they attend.
Edouard Dermithe is superb as Paul as a fragile young man who copes with illness and his sister’s constant meddling as well as wanting his own independence despite his immaturity. Finally, there’s Nicole Stephane in an incredible performance as Elisabeth as the eldest of the two who tries to make sure Paul is well and does what is right but also has her own vices that makes her quite selfish and, at times, obsessive where it is a performance of great command and charm.
Les enfants terribles is a remarkable film from Jean-Pierre Melville and writer Jean Cocteau. With a great cast, a fascinating premise, and some dazzling scenery, the film isn’t just a unique study of sibling relationships but also a look into the world of jealousy and possessiveness with a dash of surrealism and fantasy. In the end, Les enfants terribles is a phenomenal film from Jean-Pierre Melville.
Jean-Pierre Melville Films: 24 Hours in the Life of a Clown - Le silence de la mer - Bob le flambeur - (Quand tu liras cette lettre) - (Two Men in Manhattan) - (Leon Morin, Priest) - (Le Doulos) - Magnet of Doom - Le deuxieme souffle - Le Samourai - Army of Shadows - Le Cercle rouge - (Un flic)
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