Les enfants terribles (1950)

2 08 2010

I might be in the minority here, but I think I actually prefer Melville’s earlier work to his later and more identifiable crime dramas. There’s an odd minimalistic artiness to this film and his previous effort, Le Silence De La Mer. Both films are adaptations, which seems to perfectly fit this kind of style. There’s a negative connotation with calling films “literary” but I think it’s a apt description for these two films. Sure, they’re a bit heavy at times and probably too dry, but I think they’re a lot memorable than Melville’s looser, genre-driven works.

I suppose Jacques Cocteau deserves a lot of credit here since it is his trademark that is branded all over the film. Melville just seems to be delivering his interpretation of Cocteau’s style. There’s little, if any, instances of Melville’s crime/noir stuff present here. Sure, the lighting is quite expressive but it seems to reinforce the whole theatrical chamber drama element rather than being even “noir-esque.” The ever-present voiceover and highly stylized angles certainly doesn’t make one think of Un Flic. Again, it’s an experience that feels so literary that it works. Sure, it’s sort of stilted and dramatized too much for my taste, but it works perfectly considering the subject matter.

The story is prime time arthouse fodder – dealing with, but not limited to incest, heartbreak, jealousy, violence, and anything in-between. Elisabeth and Paul are siblings who live alone in a cramped room. While most of their relationship seems to be built on petty feuds and brutal arguments, they manage to display an odd closeness when they’re not fighting. Obviously, something’s wrong here. I think there’s a lot of room for  psychoanalysis in the interaction of the protagonists, but personally, it seems sort of black and white to me. Elisabeth loves Paul, Paul is drawn to her, but wants to escape. The most fascinating part of the film isn’t in their potential romance, but in what Elisabeth does to cement her obsession to the audience.

There’s a little bit of Fassbinder (the theatrical era one) here. Perhaps it is short-sighted to call every highly stylized drama with a strong female lead as being such, but Cocteau (and Melville) float around and ponder on human sexuality in a manner that seems to anticipate Fassbinder’s most personal (and thus “most indulgent”) work. It’s not like this a nuanced portrait of siblings, it’s not meant to be. It’s a completely unique (in its literariness) experience that has a poetic personality anticipating some of the most important directors of the 60s and 70s. Though it would be foolish to call this minimalistic, since it’s not, it still seems to have it’s own type of Bressonian poetry.

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