Enfants Terribles, Les (1950)

Enfants Terribles, Les (1950)

“We never play the game anymore.”

A young woman (Nicole Stephane) living with her sickly brother Paul (Edouard Dermithe) finds their enmeshed relationship threatened when their friend Gerard (Jacques Bernard) and her new coworker Agathe (Renee Closima) — who looks much like a student named Dargelos who once threw a stone-filled snowball at Paul — move in with them.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • French Films
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • Jean Cocteau Films
  • Jean-Pierre Melville Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Siblings

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that the “powerhouse duo of scenarist Jean Cocteau (who adapted his own novel) and director Jean-Pierre Melville combined to make this fascinating, though flawed, precursor of la nouvelle vague.” He points out that the “story centers on [the] bizarre, always combative relationship of a young Parisian woman, Elisabeth (Nicole Stephane gives a dynamic performance)”:

… “and her slightly younger brother, Paul (Edouard Dermithe), with whom she has always shared a room and for whom she has incestuous feelings.”

After outlining the film’s odd narrative, Peary describes how each of the four main characters eventually “becomes emotionally distressed,” noting that “the ‘stolen kisses’ theme, the pretentious young characters, the males who allow women to push them around, the narration that reveals characters’ foolish, innermost thoughts and motives, and the characters who are driven by their hearts were certainly an influence on Francois Truffaut.” He also points out that “the unpredictable and fascinating Elisabeth anticipates Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine in Jules and Jim, particularly in how she relates to Paul and Gerard in their scenes together”:

… and he notes that the “opening snowball sequence is taken from Cocteau’s 1930 debut film, The Blood of a Poet.”

This surreal-ish film will likely most appeal to those who enjoy Cocteau’s sensibilities — and to that end, there is plenty to reflect on and analyze, including but not limited to themes of homoeroticism:

… gender fluidity:

… incest:

… and the similar appearances of not only (male) “Dargelos” and (female) “Agathe” (played by the same actress):

… but also “weak and passive” Paul and “fire and ice” Elisabeth. The eventual machinations Elisabeth resorts to in the final third of the film reveal her to be a monstrously possessive female on a par with horror film villainesses or sociopathic femmes fatales; it’s just too bad we don’t quite understand the “why” behind what she does or anything else that goes on in this twisted universe.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Henri Decaë’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look for its historical interest.


One thought on “Enfants Terribles, Les (1950)

  1. First viewing. Skip it.

    A crashing, pointless (20 minutes too long) bore that drones on and on to its OTT, ‘Who cares?’ conclusion.

    Adapted by Cocteau from his 1929 novel, the film’s general nastiness may have been an influence on Jean Genet.

    If there are, indeed, incestuous feelings on the sister’s part, those feelings are abstruse and ill-defined. She generally treats him with what seems genuine disdain (~ giving new meaning to ‘You always hurt the one you love’?). And the sister’s friend falls in love with the vapid brother?! Why?!!

    There is one brief, enjoyable sequence in which the man the sister marries (played by Melvyn Martin) plays piano, singing a charming song (‘Were You Smiling At Me’) which the actor (for his only film appearance) wrote.

    Having a different director (Melville) with a different sensibility makes no difference to the Cocteau world. And Cocteau’s over-written narration only slows things down.

    I can imagine audience members in 1950 leaving the movie theater saying, “What the fuck was *that*?!”

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