Les Enfants Terribles – Get Rekt!

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Greetings, Glancers! Here we are with the start of the Get Rekt series – a catchy nomenclature which will undoubtedly appeal to the kidz and drive all that lovely 14 – 23 year based traffic to my site. Get Rekt!

Get Rekt is the new name for me using the Nightman Scoring System (c) to ‘review’ my favourite all time films. I wrote an introductory post about this a while back, and today I’m going to test it on my first victim – 1950’s  Les Enfants Terribles. Jean Coctau’s story which is suddenly more culturally relevant in these days of self and state imposed isolation, follows a brother and sister who grow up with little contact with the big bad world, and Jean Pierre Melville’s adaptation is fairly close to the source material. Strange incestuous games, obsession, suicide – this movie has it all, kidz! Put down that Roblox and suck on this slice of French crepe!

Sales: 3: The further back we go, and the further from Hollywood we get, the more difficult it is to pull data on factors such as budget and sales, especially with my half-assed approach. What’s clear is that the film was successful, but not in any major way, and certainly not in any meaningful worldwide scale. It wasn’t as successful as Melville’s previous film, but is certainly more well remembered today.

Chart3: I’m forced to go with a more or less average score for this category, as Charts were not as widely written about or discussed in 1950’s France as they would be today. We can draw basic conclusions.

Critical Consensus4: Cocteau’s novel was controversial decades earlier, even in the more liberal France and Melville’s film is no less shocking. Modern viewers may be surprised by the content, and critics nowadays continue to remark on this in both positive and negative lights. Only one facet of consensus, critics also pick up on the level of artistry on display and how the atmosphere often offers a more fantastical tone. It’s a film which has seen both a Criterion and BFI release – they don’t hand those out to just any old movie. It isn’t all positive though, with many commentating on the overbearing narration and flights into whimsy which don’t always sit well with the core relationships and emotional impact.

Director: 4: It’s undoubtedly one of Melville’s best, most well received films but it was fairly early in his career and he would hone and perfect his visual style later. Cocteau’s influence is certainly a significant percentage of the final product.

Performances3: While subjective, it’s generally easy enough to say if a performance is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, with all the gradients in between. It would be a stretch to suggest the cast are well known, especially today which may make comparisons difficult. Nicole Stephane, who stars as the sister, was nominated for a BAFTA for her performance. Her and Edouard Dermit drive the film and their relationship is suitably creepy – both with each other and those they interact with outside their bubble. Dermit isn’t the most physically convincing as someone under the thrall and threat of a bully. I could see people voting a 4 here, 5 seems reserved for fanboys while anything less than 3 would be disingenuous.

Music: 2: The musical score is not something oft remarked on upon viewings of the film. There are snippets of songs, usually delivered by the cast, and what other music there is is pulled from Classic Sources – Vivaldi and Bach. These may be familiar pieces to some. Melville does use the Score well in several places to heighten some of the more dreamlike and atmospheric sequences, but to me the content of the Score always felt like an afterthought. Perhaps a little harsh, I could go with a 3 here.

Cinematography: 3: How much of the film’s look is down to Melville versus Cocteau versus Decae is up for debate, but does it matter? It looks good, there are unusually positioned shots with the camera often peering down on the siblings. Having said that, the film as a whole leans towards not being as visually expressive as both writer and director are typically known to be, with concessions towards the static source material allowed. I’d be happy with a 4 here too.

Writing4: Writing for me is highly subjective – some lauded material and writing styles grate on my personal sensibilities, while others I am engaged by more deeply than what others may feel. I’m a sucker for quotable dialogue, especially those I can use with abandon in daily conversations. Quotation-wise, there isn’t much I can easily recall, but the strength of the writing comes from Cocteau’s original and its refusal to bend to conventions or play out in familiar terms. It’s a dark story no matter from which angle you begin to dissect, and while not obviously tragic, the comeuppance and resolution is hardly cheery. I’d happily go 3 if you are more deeply offended by some of the more dated language and the intrusive narration.

Wardrobe3: A difficult category to get full marks in, from me at least, given my lack of fucks given about clothing and fashion in general. Christian Dior worked on the costumes for the movie, and that is at least a name I recognise. To me the costumes are nothing more or less than what they need to be. Those swimming trunks tho…

Editing3: There are a few unusual sequences, but in terms of the ultra modern techniques which would come out of later New Wave films, this one isn’t as revelatory.

Make up and Hair3: Similar to wardrobe, make-up and hair only appear to me if they’re obvious. I’m not great with the physical stuff, sorry folks. Nothing outlandish or ground-breaking or untoward here.

Effects3: Can you criticize a film for not having many or any visual or special effects? That’s something to keep in mind. In those cases I think you have to go with a 3, otherwise replace the category with something else. That’s not to say Les Enfants Terribles is free from effects work – there are multiple expressive and interesting transitions.

Art and Set: 4: You can’t go wrong here, the eye of both Cocteau and Melville in prime form – from cramped bedrooms to chequered halls the characters seem alien among their surroundings and no matter where they find themselves there’s a sense of claustrophobia.

Sound: 3: Nothing revolutionary, the Sound mix is used to accentuate the atmosphere, but it’s not something immediately noticeable to me.

Cultural Significance: 3: This is a tricky one. In some respects I can see many going 4 with this, and just as many going 2. You only know what you know. The film was significant as a stepping stone for Melville and the French New Wave, which again would go on to influence much of what came out of Hollywood in the 70s. But what is the film directly responsible for, and do we still feel those ripples today? Is it a film still referenced? Not overtly I would argue, and I would also argue that the creators today using this as a reference point is dwindling. But it did have an impact and it was and still is a bold film which likely changed a lot of filmmaker’s opinions on what can be shown and thematically presented on screen.

Accomplishment3: It must have been daring to bring Cocteau’s novel to the screen. But what did the movie set out to accomplish – a mere visual translation of the text, or something more? I feel the goal was to be more striking than the novel, but the narration elements are a black mark against this goal, at least if we’re arguing from this perspective. Was the goal to shock? I don’t think so. To impart some of Cocteau’s wisdom and observations about youth, family, relationships upon us, via Melville’s lens? That feels closer to the mark. The observations are laid bare – make of them what you will.

Stunts3: There isn’t a lot to cover here – there’s a car crash, various fights and falls. These are well enough staged and shot, with consideration for the era. It’s hardly a movie about stunts and action though – what there is, is done adequately.

Originality4: It’s an adaptation of a novel, so it’s difficult to argue for top marks here. It doesn’t do enough differently from the text. Even if you ignore the original, this is still an often thematically bold film which treads waters not generally touched in mainstream Cinema. You do see similar relationships in subsequent films, but maybe it can all be more accurately tracked back to Les Liaisons Dangereuses. 

Miscellaneous: 3: I don’t have much to add in this category – again something which will plague the older films, so I go with the average score.

Personal: 4: You didn’t think I would be going with a 5 for all my films did you? The further back we go, the more difficult it is for me to find films I truly love – at least on the same scale as in later years. While there’s no doubting how much I like and appreciate this film… I can’t say I love it.

Total Score: 65/100

Come on, Kidz! Ask Mom and Dad to buy you this for your Birthday then pop on over here and let us know your thoughts. There’s no way I would have ever thought this would be rated by me as low as 65 out of 100, but there you go. If you’re playing along, feel free to break down the film as I have, and share your scores!

Tell it like it is!

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