|THE STRANGE ONES (LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES) (director: Jean-Pierre Melville; screenwriter: from the novel "Les Enfants Terribles" by Jean Cocteau/Jean Cocteau; cinematographer: Henri Decae; editor: Monique Bonnot; cast: Jean Cocteau (Narrator), Nicole Stephane (Elizabeth), Edouard Dermithe (Paul), Renee Cosima (Dargelos/Agathe), Jacques Bernard (Gerard), Melvyn Martin (Michael), Roger Gaillard (Uncle), Maurice Revel (Doctor), Jean-Marie Revel (Mariette, Maid), Jean-Marie Robain (Headmaster), Marie Cyliakus (Mother); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jean-Pierre Melville; The Criterion Collection; 1950-France-in French with English subtitles)|
is the only one who could have
directed Cocteau's book of childish mind games
by Dennis Schwartz
great French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville ("Le
Cercle Rouge"/"The Silence of the Sea"/"Un Flic")
brilliantly adapts the unfilmable 1929 wicked fantasy
novel of Jean Cocteau, "Les Enfants
Terribles," about the disturbing
claustrophobic unhealthy close relationship between a
teenager brother and sister. Perhaps Melville
is the only one who could have directed
Cocteau's book of childish mind games so lucidly. The
low-budget, psychological avant-garde
film is beautifully shot in a lustrous black-and-white
by the gifted cinematographer Henri Henri
Decae. The time period changes from the book's
1929 to 1950. Cocteau narrates.
opens in Paris with a school-yard snowball fight at
the Lycee Condorcot, the same school both Cocteau and
Melville, at different times, attended. One of the
students, the sensitive effeminate Paul (Edouard
Dermithe), is hit in the chest by a
snowball with a rock in it thrown by the rebellious
school bully Dargelos (Renee Cosima,
an actress in male drag who reappears in later
scenes as the forlorn lover female Agathe).
has a schoolboy crush on Dargelos, and even though he
fainted when hit by the snowball he has no wish to
squeal. To Paul's dismay, Dargelos gets expelled when
he throws pepper in the face of the inquisitive
headmaster (Jean-Marie Robain).
Paul's schoolboy friend Gerard (Jacques
Bernard) takes him home by cab,
where the 16-year-old Paul shares a littered
small-room with his bossy slightly older butch-like
sister Elizabeth (Nicole Stephane).
They rarely venture out, and have no worldly
sophistication as they choose to reject the outside
world to live in their own hermetic one. Their ailing
widowed mom (Marie Cyliakus)
is bedridden in another room and is cared for by the
maid (Jean-Marie Revel).
The friendly family doctor (Maurice Revel)
examines Paul and says he has a weak heart and orders
him to stay home from school to get rest and be nursed
by Elizabeth. When their mom dies, the kindly doctor
pays out of his pocket for the maid to stay on to look
after the irresponsible fun-loving argumentative
siblings. Gerald's clueless flighty rich uncle (Roger
Gaillard), who is his
guardian, arranges for the trio to stay in a sea beach
area near Nice while he attends to business in other
parts of France.
unhealthy obsessive relationship between the siblings
leads to a double tragedy, as the dominant female
sibling won't let any outsider come between her and
her weak-willed brother. Though Elizabeth marries a
wealthy art gallery owner (Melvyn
Martin), she is quickly widowed when
hubby dies in a car crash. Elizabeth thereby inherits
his opulent mansion. When outsiders Agathe and Gerald
also live in the mansion, the siblings show they are
unable to live with outsiders without there being
complications. These complications will lead to tragic
results for each sibling.
The film was made almost entirely on the stage of the Theatre Pigalle and in Cocteau's apartment. As background music there are strands of Bach and Vivaldi, not the jazz music Cocteau wanted. The only thing Melville couldn't stop was Cocteau's insistence that his adoptive son Dermithe play the brother. Cocteau figured if anyone could make an actor out of him it was Melville. But Dermithe was too bland for the part. This is completely Nicole Stephane's film, her passionate and zany performance is riveting. While Melville survives all of Cocteau's meddling and is completely faithful to the book, and perfectly captures the simmering relationship between the confused siblings and Cocteau's subversive attitude towards the traditional French institutions.
REVIEWED ON 12/31/2014 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ