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Forbidden Games - Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // December 6, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted November 29, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

A German air raid on Paris during the Second World War leaves a young girl named Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) orphaned and alone. When she realizes her best friend, her poor dog, has also been killed and is laying in the river, she goes to pull him out and in the process manages to get lost from the other survivors of the bombing.

Luckily for Paulette, a young boy named Michel (Georges Poujouly) is in the area trying to locate a young calf that his family has lost. He runs into Paulette and soon takes her back to his family farm. Once they're out of Paris and in the countryside where things are more peaceful, their relationship grows and strengthens and Michel almost becomes a parent to Paulette, despite his young age. Once this is established, the children are forced to deal with more death and more loss as things start to erode in Michel's family circle. The children find themselves enveloped in a game in which they swipe crosses from the nearby cemetery and take them out and make their own pet cemetery, which, upon discovery, brings down the wrath of the townspeople around them, shattering whatever glimpse of community that Paulette was able to salvage from her surroundings.

What makes Forbidden Games so interesting is how the two children are basically thrust into adult roles but deal with the challenges using child logic. This creates an interesting contrast by demonstrating alternate ways of dealing with death and the rituals that society has built up around the events that take place when a family member is lost. Adding to all of this is the fact that, as an adult audience, we can recognize how completely grim and hopeless the situation is for Paulette and Michel but as children, they're not able to understand the levity of what's happening to them and what is inevitably going to happen to them.

If it sounds tragic, it is – heart breakingly so. The film is incredibly sad and morose and the excellent performances from the two leads, Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly, are so completely believable that it only serves to further that tragedy. Child actors usually falter in heavier roles such as this, particularly in North America (well, in Hollywood specifically) where it's still a bit of a taboo to put children in grim scenarios such as the ones we see them deal with in this film. The fact that not once is the suspension of disbelief broken by these two kids is a testament not only to their innate ability in front of the camera but also to the direction of Rene Clement.

Scenes such as the opening where we see Paulette witness the death of her parents, then fish her dead puppy out of the river only to have a callous old woman tell her to get rid of the nasty dead thing are completely tear jerking in nature, particularly when we see Paulette simply accept the way things have turned out for her.

In terms of the visuals in the film, Clement shoots the film in a very minimalist style. The movie is not fancy, there aren't a lot of camera tricks or fancy angles and everything is presented to the viewer very 'matter of factly.' It's quite effective in parlaying the narrative and it suits the tone of the story very well – simple visuals really complement a simple storyline quite appropriately.

While the narrative loses some of its impact towards the last half of the movie where things start to feel a bit rushed in contrast to the opening half hour of the film, Forbidden Games still packs quite a punch. It's a beautifully made, expertly acted film that makes you think about the world, how it sucks the innocence out of the young as soon as it can, and the impact one can have on your fellow man, particularly during times or war or strife. The film took home an Academy Award in 1953 for Best Foreign Film.



This brand-new 1.33.1 fullframe black and white transfer looks fantastic, though surprisingly, it is windowboxed. Black levels are strong and deep and don't bury the fine detail in the background of the image at all. The grays look nice and stay fairly strong, as do the whites and this is a very well balanced image. There is some mild print damage in a few spots that shows up in the form of the odd scratch or speck here and there but these instances are few and far between. An understandable amount of film grain is also present throughout but it never proves to be distracting at all. In terms of digital problems there aren't any mpeg compression artifacts to note and neither is there any serious edge enhancement. There's a minute amount of flicker in some scenes but again, it's such a non-issue that it's only mentioned here for the sake of being anal retentive. Criterion has done a bang up job in the visuals department on this release, though again, the reasoning behind the windowboxing is a mystery.


As far as older Mono tracks go, this one sounds pretty good. Presented in its original French language track with optional English subtitles, there's a surprising amount of depth to this track considering that it comes out of only one speaker. Dialogue is smooth and easy to follow, sound effects come through nicely and the score sounds great. If you listen for it, you will notice some mild hiss in the background of a few specific scenes but overall, there's not much to complain about here. Criterion has also included an optional English language dub track on this release, and in terms of fidelity it's on par with the French track, however the movie plays out much better in its native language.


Criterion has supplied a collection of vintage and modern interviews with director Rene Clement and actress Paulette Fossey, who go fairly in depth about the origins of the film, how it started as a short film and turned into a feature length project, and how Fossey and Poujouly came on board as young actors in the project. Clement and Fossey each get a solo interview, Clement's from a French TV show from 1963 and Fossey's from an interview conducted in 2001, as well as a joint interview that was recorded for a French television broadcast in 1967. There's a wealth of great information about their careers and about the film in here and it's great to get a chance to hear about the making of the movie from those who made it.

Also included in the extra features section is an alternate opening sequence and an alternate closing sequence for the film. These alternate sequences provide a different framing for the movie, and as such, give it more of a storybook feel and they are both presented here for the first time, with complete titles and audio. It's quite interesting to see them here, as although they're different from the ones used in the final cut of the movie, they're still quite effective.

Rounding out the extra features on this release are the film's original theatrical trailer and a booklet insert containing an essay on the film from film scholar Peter Matthews.

Final Thoughts:

Criterion gives a truly moving story and an incredibly well made film a fine presentation on DVD. The movie looks and sounds quite nice and the extras, while not as plentiful as I'm sure most people would have liked, are quite interesting and complimentary to the feature on this release. Forbidden Games earns itself a solid recommendation.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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