Les Enfants Terribles (France, 1949):

Terribles in their narcissism, morbidity and randomness, and enfants in their unbridled passion, refusal of order and sense, maybe the other way around -- disorderly childhood willfully stretched past adolescence, brother and sister rejecting the outside world for a bedroom bulging with fetishized bric-a-brac, the debris of fantasies. Elisabeth (Nicole Stéphane) is the imperious shit-stirrer, impatient with her own dynamic transgression, "all fire and ice, she despised everything lukewarm;" younger brother Paul (Edouard Dermithe) is no less ethereal, a snowball to the chest brings him to his knees and into their room for symbiotic warring, "two halves of the same body." The tension is between heightened whimsy and its vérité settings, or, more specifically, between Jean Cocteau's writing (an adaptation of his 1929 novel) and Jean-Pierre Melville's direction; extroverted where Le Silence de la Mer was taciturn, though Vercos was hardly able to influence the director's mise-en-scène as Cocteau could, his voice intruding upon the image via plumy narration. Still, these two auteurs shave overlapping fixations, principally the whiff of hermetic worlds, the performativity of ritual, the reversal of genders -- butch Elisabeth and feminized Paul, the double-casting of Renée Cosima (as both demonic school chum Dargelos and forlorn ingénue Agathe) accentuating the blur. Agathe is, along with Gérard (Jacques Bernard), a visitor from the outside, sampling the siblings' turbulence without possibly appropriating their intensity: "adults," or intermediaries in a ménage-a-quatre that never solidifies. The mother's death and Elisabeth's marriage (and immediate widowhood) eventually move the characters to another, literal temple, where the fantasies, serenaded to Bach-Vivaldi, continue over a checkerboard floor. Shoplifting for the joy of it, a marble bust with a mustache painted on, the tire of a crashed car turning "like the wheel of a roulette" -- there's a hint of the theatre to the amoral taboo-ignoring of brother and sister who jump together into a tub, the scenery able to move as mercurially as the camera as their private universe implodes, the collapse caught by Melville's ascending crane. Cinematography by Henri Decaë. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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