Forbidden Games

Movie Information

In Brief: René Clément's Forbidden Games (1952) is one of those art-house staples where you can see what all the fuss was about, but may have a harder time actually feeling it. This simple tale — a young girl's parents (and dog) are killed in an air strike while fleeing the Nazis in WWII France — was expanded from a short film. Even at a brief 86 minutes, the strain sometimes shows. There are still moments of power and a perceptive look at childhood, but the much-praised naturalness of it all seems less remarkable now.
Genre: Drama
Director: René Clément
Starring: Georges Poujouly, Brigitte Fossey, Amédée, Laurence Badie, Madeleine Babulée
Rated: NR

Generally speaking, I don’t tend to believe in the idea that a movie loses its intrinsic value because of the passage of time. Just because a thing is no longer new doesn’t mean it’s no longer good — even if the topic is no longer fresh and some of the material has drifted into obscurity. To take a very different example, look at Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three (1961). Its Cold War premise and its divided Berlin is no longer topical and many of its jokes only land on their targets if you know the era, but I’ve seen the film delight an audience who weren’t there and can’t have “gotten” a lot of the jokes. But René Clément’s Forbidden Games (1952) — while still worthy — just doesn’t feel all that fresh now, and it’s story feels both contrived and padded.

The padding is understandable. The film was originally shot as a short film, but Clemént — apparently at the urging of Jacques Tati — decided to expand it into a feature. It’s less about that, though, than the fact that it has simply gotten somehow stale — at least to me. The kids — Georges Poujouly, Brigitte Fossey — are still remarkable and the location-shooting with its natural light, retains a certain freshness. But the idea that the film has some sort of deep message about children in wartime doesn’t resonate so much. Yes, Fossey is orphaned (and loses her dog, too) in a Nazi air attack while fleeing Paris with her parents, but much of what happens after that focuses on her growing relationship with Poujouly and her somewhat morbid fixation on death — and that fixation has little direct relation to war. It’s still compelling, but whether it’s quite the classic it’s painted as, may be another matter.

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Forbidden Games Friday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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