The year is 1940 and outside Paris there is a steady stream of refugees fleeing the Nazis who are not willing to allow them to get away so easily, sending warplanes to bomb them and strafe them with bullets. One refugee is Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) who is with her parents, but they run into trouble when their car breaks down and the other survivors are angry enough to send their vehicle off the road and into a ditch to get it out of the way. This leaves them without transport, but as it turns out it also spells their doom as Paulette's puppy runs away, she runs after it and her parents, in trying to save her, are gunned down from above...
Forbidden Games, or Jeux interdits as it was originally known, was hailed as an anti-war masterpiece on its initial release, winning a clutch of awards including the Best Foreign Language Oscar for its year. For many it remains one of the most devastating examinations of the effects war has on its orphans, Paulette being the centre of that concern and marking a point on a line of little girls who would periodically show up in French films as a way of understanding the mind of a child - you could trace her influence to Mouchette, Ponette and the girl from Blame It On Fidel, among many others. Fossey was one of those French kids showing an uncanny ability in front of the camera lens, and made the movie what it was for its followers.
Although she didn't write the script and perform directing duties, so perhaps we should be paying tribute to the man at the helm, René Clément, who had moved from documentaries into a variety of fictions, often well thought of as his talent was undeniable. Yet whether Forbidden Games stood up to scrutiny all these years later was open to question for there were those who identified correctly that there was much about the contrivance in plotting for the ultimately cutesy effect, considering Paulette as she is unoffcially adopted by a farmer's family as the object for maximum audience manipulation, especially as the war appears to be put on hold for her to deal with her fresh obsession with death.
She doesn't exactly grow morbid, as Clément portrayed her with huge sympathy, yet also a more calculating style than was really necessary. It was surely enough that we feel sorry for her after that heartbreaking introduction where her parents and pet were killed, we didn't really need the "awww" factor in her subsequent coping mechanisms, and there were times when you felt the director was all too nakedly tugging the sentimental heartstrings. That said, it was undoubtedly for a good cause, to make us understand what it was like for a child to undergo such crushing trauma and see how she could make her way through it to some kind of acceptance, even if according to this she was delaying the inevitable.
The inevitable being the wrenching ending where she realises - just about - that the countryside idyll she has been appreciating is all too transitory and now she is to be plunged into the fear and confusion of war orphans the world over. During her time of peace, she makes friends with the youngest son of the farmer, Michel (Georges Poujouly, impressive) and they grow close, she because she needs a dependable figure in her life and he because he needs her to look after and impress. It seems like a perfect set up, but as they feed their mutual preoccupation with death what they don't grasp is how damaging burying these animals then going further to steal crosses for their graves could be. Still, it does help Paulette for a while, and in light of how the story is resolved, that is not resolved at all, you'll be wishing for a happier outcome for them both. With digs at how the adults continually judge each other and even fight as a result, Clément seemed to be criticising institutions such as the Church and Govermments, but what you take away is Paulette's final, irreparable anguish. Guitar by Narciso Yepes.