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Les Enfants Terrible (The Criterion Collection)

Nicole Stéphane , Edouard Dermithe , Jean-Pierre Melville    DVD

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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Depraved Seduction July 25 2007
By Doug Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
During the first few minutes I thought Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles seemed like an odd choice of novels to adapt for a director known for his low view of human nature but that is only because I was not all that familiar with Les Enfants Terribles. The title should have given me a clue but I realized as I watched that Cocteau also is very interested in exploring man's and woman's less seemly side. Furthermore, Melville's gritty noir sensibility is every bit as much on display here in this coming-of-age story as it is in the noir masterpieces that came later. In this adaptation of Cocteau's novel Melville ruminates about the insular world of a brother and sister whose precocious and despotic imaginations are destabilized only by uncertain desires. The two teen siblings are Paul, an ultra-sensitive student who is infatuated with another male student named Dargolos, and Lise, his sister, who has been forced to stay at home to care for their ailing mother. There is an obvious and deeply disturbing symbiotic bond between these two and the unwholesomeness of the bond is immediately apparent. Though they are young there is nothing youthful or innocent about either of them; in fact, much of the time, they seem to act like little blonde fascist versions of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton--as with Taylor and Burton for these two cruelty and seduction are indistinguishable. Just how depravedly selfish these two are, or might be (again, the extent of their depravity is never made explicit) might disgust some viewers. (If the incest topic makes you queasy you should probably stay away from this.) But even viewers who can handle the topic might be frustrated that Melville does not give us the proper amount of background information on these two to allow us any real depth of insight into the evolution of these two tormented psyches. To be fair, though, Cocteau was writing before Freudian psychoanalysis and the idea that we needed fully fleshed out case histories to understand individual or symbiotically joined psyches had become part of the common culture. As it is Cocteau and Melville only give us bits and pieces of Paul and Lise's psyches and all we can do is make assumptions about what went wrong. Whether the cause of their rapid slide down the slippery slope of narcissism was lack of a tutor to socialize them or just a result of their having received an overabundance of creativity and beauty at birth remains a mystery to the end. And we can never say whether Paul's infatuation with Dargolos and then the later infatuation with Agathe was an attempt to replicate his bond with his sister or to escape it. All we really know at films end is that the strange bond that exists between Paul and Lise prevents either of them from bonding with anyone outside their own mutually imagined realm. They do invite two guests to live with them (or, I should say, the two are seduced by Paul and Lise's depraved behavior) but they are welcome only so long as they play by Paul and Lise's very exclusive rules.

There is plenty here even for the casual Freudian and those who think deeply about such films will no doubt come up with their own plausible solutions to this brother-sister mystery but, it seems to me, one can only guess at Cocteau's and Melville's intentions--and I think this lack of explicitness is intentional. I can't help presuming that Cocteau is making a point about creativity and dissent and how asocial (anti-bourgeoisie) desires lead to psychological depravity but that judgement relies upon a value system that I do not think Cocteau and Melville necessarily share with the rest of society. More likley its just their own creative prerogotive to acknowledge that such states of desire exist outside the normally sanctioned channels of being.

In any event, this is a very creative film that will elicit a variety of responses from Freudians and anti-Freudians alike (I'll be curious to read future posts here).

Note: If this kind of thing is your kind of thing you might also like Volker Schlondorff's adaptation of Musil's Young Torless as well as the fictions of Edgar Allen Poe, Thomas Mann, Andre Gide, & Paul Bowles.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great, and I don't know why... Aug. 25 2007
By Chris Swanson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
"Les Enfants Terrible" is a collaboration between one of France's greatest authors, Jean Cocteau, and one of its greatest directors, Jean-Pierre Mellville. It should be, and according to many, is, a superb, excellent film. But to me there was something... missing. I don't know what.

The plot of the movie centers around a brother and sister who have an unusually close relationship. It's not made clear in the movie if it's an incestual relationship, but the overtones are certainly there (indeed, when they make references to the "games" they play, one can easily substitute the word "sex", and remove all doubt).

Both children, apparently around sixteen, spend a great deal of time isolated in the room they share, and woe betide anyone who invades their sanctum. All is reasonably well until the sister marries a wealthy man, who soon dies, giving her, her brother and their friends a large house to live in.

From a technical standpoint a lot to admire in this film. There's a great deal of poetry in the visuals, some wonderful acting, and some powerful dialogue. But for me, as I said, something was missing. I'm not sure what it was. I SHOULD have liked this movie more than I did. Perhaps on subsequent viewings, I will like it more.

For now, though, it gets three stars. But at least it's a SOLID three stars, and I certainly don't feel as though I wasted my money by buying it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sibling play Aug. 16 2007
By Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Earlier this year, in the spring, Ms. Nicole Stephane main female character of this movie has passed away. What better way to pay tribute to the acress, but to revisit this old classic movie based on Jean Coctoeau's book that was directed by famous French director Melville. Although I never read the book, I wanted to check out the movie with risque theme of incest.

I found movie fascinating, although some of the acting I found to be overdramatic and certain actors miscast. But the idea of the movie and deep tragedy of the situation between brother and sister, kept me at the edge of my seat until the end.

If you watch this movie, you must see the documentary commentary about making of the movie. Drama did not start and end with the story presented in this classic, but it is the drama behind the camera that was unnerving all along. Save time to watch this brief commentary because it will give you some great insight about the complex relationship between actors, director and writer during the creative process.

I could not stop thinking about another movie with the similar theme : "The Cement Garden" made from Ian McEwan's book. While the idea of the incest is common for both of these works of art, the characters in "The Cemenet Garden" are much better casted and developed. In any case, watching this movie will be time well spent.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great piece of movie-making, but a difficult film Aug. 23 2012
By Dr. Laurence Raw - Published on Amazon.com
Don't expect the old stable conventions of plot and coherent characterization in this film. Based on Cocteau's 1929 novel, Jean-Pierre Melville's film captures the surrealist spirit in which audiences are encouraged to reflect on different levels of reality, as well as consider their own role in the mise-en-scene. The cinematography is brilliant: some of the shot-compositions are truly memorable in their use of light and shade. Maybe you need to view the film twice, if not thrice, to appreciate its qualities.
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange and at times unnerving masterpiece, French style. April 2 2009
By Ignacio Litardo - Published on Amazon.com
It took time to build, but when things got really rolling, I felt things could not happen otherwise. The settings and actresses are truly fine. The musical score, simple and obsessive, is perfect for this almost naive plot of youth angst "avant la lettre". The final monologue of Elizabeth about "how we have to make our lives ugly, unlivable" is worth many bad French Literature we "ought to read".

While I cannot say it has any meaning, the "form" of this movie is so good one just forgets. I agree with Amazon's Tom Keogh that it may be "a harbinger of pop narcissism", I thought exactly the same. Some images are beautiful, like Liz moving in the garden with barren trees and a cloudy sky, prodding elegantly in a house that doesn't belong to her.

Doug Anderson on Amazon wrote a good summary and a great line: "the unwholesomeness of the bond is immediately apparent" "little blonde fascist versions of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton-". The thread he and another reviewer have is interesting. I pinch from there my end line: "In film the "how" is everything".

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