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Forbidden Games: The Criterion Collection

Death permeates every frame of René Clément's beautiful, assured Forbidden Games (1952), opening with Germans bombing a parade of refugees fleeing Paris during the 1940 Blitzkrieg, the families scrambling for cover as Luftwaffe planes strafe the ground around them. It's shot almost like documentary — it's harrowing yet, for cinema, shockingly unsentimental, making the death-by-machine-gun demise of five-year-old Paulette's (Brigette Fossey) parents and her dog all the more disturbing for the quick, quiet nature of the incident. She's found wandering the countryside, clutching her dog's body, by a 12-year-old farmboy named Michel (Georges Poujouly), who takes her home to live with his Catholic family. Ignorant of religion, Michel teaches her the catechism and helps give her dog a Catholic burial, making a cross and saying prayers over the grave. The two become obsessed with burying dead animals, creating a secret cemetery for moles and other animals. Based on the novel The Secret Game by Francois Boyer, Clément originally planned this project as a short film but was encouraged by Jacques Tati to turn it into a full-length feature. The result is a picture that not only addresses the difficulty of the human mind to grasp the horrors of war, but also one that brilliantly explores the disconnected yet deeply felt inner lives of children — the fantasy world that Michel and Paulette create through their "game" helps Paulette work through her uncomprehending grief. Both Pojouly and Fossey are flawless in their roles (Fossey was, indeed, five when making the film and had never acted before — that she is so perfectly natural in such a complex role is a testament to Clément's direction), and when they're faced with the reality of how cruel and untrustworthy adults can be, the moment is devastating. There have been few films that tackle the lives of children with such understanding and honesty, and Forbidden Games' 1952 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film was well deserved. The Criterion Collection's DVD release features a restored high-definition transfer, presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, that is stunningly good. This is a gorgeous black-and-white film, and both the rich contrast and amazing restoration make it a joy to watch. The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio (French, with English subtitles) is equally good, having been cleaned up to a level matching the picture. It's another superlative release from Criterion, and extras include three interviews, both new and archival — Fossey's remembrances about the filming are fascinating — plus an alternate, never-used opening and ending, the original theatrical trailer, an optional English-dubbed audio track, and a booklet containing an essay by film scholar Peter Matthews. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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