Several months ago, I recorded the French film, Les Enfants Terribles, on my DVR. Since I don’t watch many foreign films, I wanted to see this film as a way to expand my cinematic horizons. When I found out that this particular movie was released during the Breen Code era, in 1950, I was curious to see if any traces of the Breen Code could be found in the film. So, that is why I chose Les Enfants Terribles for one of my Clean Movie Month reviews! If you read my review of Madeleine, you would know that Les Enfants Terribles is not the first foreign film I reviewed for this blogathon. In fact, I was quite surprised that Madeleine was approved by the Breen Code. An interesting coincidence is both Madeleine and Les Enfants Terribles were released in the same year. So, it’ll be interesting to see how this French film from 1950 compares to the British film, also from 1950!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: The acting in Les Enfants Terribles was one of the finer points of the movie! The two main characters, Paul and Elisabeth, were very interesting to watch because of the lead stars’ acting performances! Nicole Stephane brought the character of Elisabeth to life with a sense of fierceness and strength. These two elements helped her carry the film. She was also able to stand on her own merits when it came to acting among the other actors and actresses! Edouard Dermit portrayed Elisabeth’s brother, Paul. The well-roundedness of his acting talents was very clear to see in this film. Paul goes through a lot in Les Enfants Terribles. In every scene, Edouard brought his A game and even made his character seem like he was a real person. Over the course of this story, Edouard not only incorporates a sense of realism to his character, but also pulls off an acting performance that was mesmerizing to watch!
The music: At certain points in the film, orchestral music could be heard. This type of music would normally come into the movie anytime a new location was introduced. I thought this was an interesting choice because it fit the film’s overall tone. The orchestral music was grand yet sinister, highlighting Paul and Elisabeth’s journey through wealth and growing up. In one scene, Elisabeth’s husband, Michael, sings a song while playing the piano. Not only did the piano music sound good, but the song was also sung well. The music’s role in Les Enfants Terribles brought a special significance to the project!
The dynamics of the characters: Les Enfants Terribles puts more focus on the characters than the story itself. Despite this, it was fascinating to see how the characters interacted with one another. Throughout the film, lives are transformed and relationships are built among Paul, Elisabeth, and the people around them. What makes this part of the movie work is the screen-writing as well as the acting. These two elements provide the perfect combination for making the characters as interesting as they were.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Lack of explanation for Paul and Elisabeth’s “game”: During the movie, Paul and Elisabeth play a game that only the two of them know about. However, no explanation to what this game is or how it’s played was ever given in the story. While watching the film, I tried to figure out more about the game. But, without an explanation, it was very difficult to understand the importance of it. I also noticed that this game was featured in the story when it was convenient for the plot. This is because the game itself was mentioned on very few occasions.
A misleading premise: According to Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM’s) website, Les Enfants Terribles is about “a brother and sister close themselves off from the world by playing an increasingly intense series of mind games with the people who dare enter their lair”. As I’ve already mentioned, Paul and Elisabeth’s “game” wasn’t well explained or featured in the movie for very long. The sibling relationship of Paul and Elisabeth seemed very toxic, from calling each other names to treating each other horribly. If anything, this movie was about two things: siblings who grow apart and a young woman who slowly becomes obsessed with power and control. Since the movie was different than its synopsis, I found TCM’s description to be misleading.
An unclear time-line: Les Enfants Terribles takes place over the course of several years. But, to me, this movie felt like all the events happened within a year. This was because there were no clear explanations about when certain situations were taking place. Time-cards and any mentions of the year were not found in this movie. Even the narrator didn’t talk about how much time had passed. The film’s time-line became very confusing, leaving me wondering how many years were included in the story. Because of the unclear time-line, the characters appeared as if they were frozen in time.
My overall impression:
I ended up liking Les Enfants Terribles more than I thought I would! It was an interesting film that had a few surprises in store. The movie itself is a character study/character driven story, showing how they evolve as time goes on. The acting was really good and the characters were well developed, helping this narrative become engaging. As I was watching Les Enfants Terribles, I could see some of the Breen Code’s influence. One example was anytime the doctor came to examine Paul. Either the examination itself was not shown on-screen or the doctor would only be shown listening to Paul’s heartbeat. However, when it came to this film, the Breen Code could have been enforced more. There were several times where characters were swearing, either at each other or just for the sake of it. This shocked me because not only was Les Enfants Terribles released in 1950, but it was also released during the Breen Code era. I was surprised that this movie got away with having this much language in the early ‘50s. Was this particular film the beginning of the end for the Breen Code? That’s definitely a question for another day.
Overall score: 7 out of 10
Have you ever watched a French film? Which foreign film have you always wanted to see? Share your thoughts in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!