Monday, September 22, 2014



During a beautifully shot nighttime snowball fight among teenage students, delicate blond Paul is hit smack in the chest by the dark, cocky Dargelos (whom Paul idolizes) with a rock hidden in a snowball. Paul collapses and is taken to a doctor who prescribes weeks of bed rest at home with his invalid mother and his older sister Elisabeth. Paul and Elisabeth, who seem unnaturally close, share a room and also share an odd "game" they lapse into at prearranged signals called "getting lost" that is never quite explained, except as an activity that keeps others at a distance, even Paul's good friend Gerard. Mom soon dies leaving Paul and Elisabeth alone to get even creepier, although their circle widens a bit. Elisabeth gets a job as a model and marries a rich American who promptly dies and leaves her his estate; Gerard harbors an unstated and unrequited love for Elisabeth; Paul falls for a model named Agathe who looks a lot like Dargelos. And to stir the pot more, all four wind up moving into Elisabeth's mansion where they mock up a room to look just like Paul and Elisabeth’s old bedroom. When Elisabeth gets jealous of Paul and Agathe, she starts pulling strings to bring about certain unhappiness for all.

This is often referred to as a Jean Cocteau film, though it was actually directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, with a script by Cocteau based on his novel, and with Cocteau narrating. It's beautifully filmed with nice use of light and shadow throughout, and the plot is interesting, but it falls down on a couple of points. I didn't find the acting as weak as some critics do, but there's no doubt that casting people obviously in their 20s or older in the lead parts is a liability. Paul (Edouard Dermithe) is attractive and rather ostentatiously passive, but he's too healthy looking to be someone put out of commission by a rock in a snowball. Renée Cosima plays both Dargelos and Agathe quite well—I didn't realize they were the same actor until I saw it on IMDb. Jacques Bernard is fine as the underappreciated Gerard, and Nicole Stéphane (pictured above with Dermithe), though far too old at 27 to be playing a teenager, is quite good as the strong-willed but messed-up Elisabeth. I liked the fact that the game the siblings play is deliberately left ambiguous, as are their incestuous leanings—and Paul's homoerotic attractions, though I kept hoping that Paul and Gerard would run off together. The music, mostly chunks of Vivaldi and Bach, is occasionally too intrusive. Generally, more interesting than compelling. [Criterion streaming]

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