- Les Enfants Terribles is a fascinating collaboration two of the most talented figures in French cinema at the time of release: Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean Cocteau. Melville is known for hard-boiled gangsters, war, cold nihilism. Cocteau is a surrealist—I guess it is sort of like Spielberg coming to do Kubrick’s A.I. project or something- a meeting of two seemingly opposite personalities (though near equally gifted). The results are scrambled- it probably didn’t end up being the quality of film either would have made on their own but there are moments of greatness here that surpass even superior overall films
- This is Melville’s second film- he hadn’t yet hit his stride- Cocteau is actually the bigger name in 1950 with Beauty and the Beast in 1946—I’m surprised he didn’t just direct this himself (screenplay, from his novel, and he provides the voice-over)
- Apparently, Melville was sick one day and Cocteau shot some of it. This is Melville’s only film not about war or gangsters
- Elegant use of Vivaldi—heavy though, and when you add Cocteau’s dominant (and overbearing) voice-over it is just too much—too busy
- Opening tracking shot of the kids running (with Vivaldi)—snowball fight and mayhem—hard not to think of Vigo’s Zero for Conduct
- Wipe editing that goes away after awhile
- Cocteau’s narration is indeed stifling. It is like too many title cards in a silent film. He’s declaring what is significant about the emotions of the characters and action we’re watching. In one scene he explains why a character doesn’t say thank you
- He is obviously an exceptional writer with lines like the wheel on the car spinning like the lottery when a young man passes away in an automobile accident. The screenplay is always literate. The use of Shakespeare quoting Macbeth is inspired.
- The story is about this dangerous brother and sister. Lisabeth (Nicole Stephane) and Paul (Edouard Dermithe). The real interesting casting is having Renée Cosima double as both a male and female character in the film (friends with the siblings)—intriguing. Lisabeth and Paul hawk at each other. We have boredom portrayed on screen (which is rare, and sort of refreshing). They have a rapport, a banter, and the two actors look like real life brother and sister.
- I think ultimately the film is a case for the singular auteur theory and against collaboration. There are too many cooks in the kitchen – they should have either let Melville make it or Cocteau alone. However, there are some very remarkable highlights here stylistically. At 61-minutes roughly we get a double dolly shot like out of a Spike Lee film. The Gerard character (Jacques Bernard) is front left on the screen and he loses Lisbeth to Michael. At that moment both he and the camera move toward us while the other actors remain in the background. It is a stunning cinematic moment- beyond impressive.
- In another creative moment (though not on that level) the brother and sister speak to each other telepathically – via voice-over only- their lips don’t move.
- Surrealism sequence (yep, this is Cocteau)– a beautiful sequence of shots (above title here) with reverse photography as Paul is sleepwalking on Gloomy Hill
- Fatalism in the characters, evil, envy
- Highly Recommend- top 10 of the year quality. I think you can characterize it as a bit of a muddle (or at least overbaked) given the capacities of both Melville and Cocteau—both of whom would far exceed this film on their own. There are clearly moments of transcendence and greatness you’d normally see in a Must-See or even Masterpiece film. I’m having a hard time shaking the double-dolly shot and the perfect use of it in that context
This was such an odd Melville movie, almost seemed out of place when put in with the rest of his filmography, you make an interesting point about “too many cooks in the kitchen.” It makes sense as great artists would seemingly have trouble dealing with any amount of compromise. Are there are exceptions to this though? That is, movies collaborated on by multiple auteurs that ended up working.
@James Trapp- good question- Taxi Driver comes to mind right away- it is certainly both very much the voice of Paul Schrader and Scorsese .Oliver Stone has a very large voice in Scarface (1983) and that still works with De Palma. And then of course Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman collaborated twice in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. They’ve both excelled on their own since but these collaborations work beautifully. I’m sure there are dozens I’m missing.