Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Forbidden Games

(Jeux interdits, France, 1952)

It’s 1940 in France and refugees from Paris are fleeing down a country road, being strafed by Nazi airplanes. Little 5-year-old Paulette, probably Jewish though the movie never says, chases after her little puppy, her parents chase her, and both parents and the puppy are killed by gunfire. You don’t get much more heart-breaking than that, right? But director René Clément doesn’t indulge in tear-jerking histrionics here, as most directors would. She’s too young to completely understand just what has happened—she knows they’re dead, but she doesn’t really know what that means—and it’s as if we are able to see this tragedy through her eyes. She doesn’t cry. When people who stop to help her out throw the dog’s corpse into the river, she runs after it. She’s as affected by the dog’s death as she is by that of her parents. She ends up with a peasant family, and she and their 9-year-old son embark on a project of burying every dead animal they find, making an increasingly elaborate pet cemetery in an abandoned mill. To mark the graves, they begin stealing crucifixes. Don’t expect a pat ending on this one. I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s not what they’d do in Hollywood.