'Les Enfants Terribles'

DVD Watch

Les Enfants Terribles

Criterion Collection, $39.95

Jean Cocteau's sharp metallic voice slices and dices like his guillotine profile. Collaborating on the French Renaissance man's source material, which Cocteau swore couldn't be interpreted onscreen, Jean-Pierre Melville's thick skin might just have been accessorized with earmuffs for the two filmmakers' 1950 cinematic tryst. "There was no embarrassment between brother and sister," announces Cocteau, his voiceover one of Les Enfants Terribles chill winds. "Their room was a thick shell in which they lived, washed, and dressed, like two halves of one body." Elisabeth (Nicole Stéphane) and Paul (Cocteau "protégé" and nicely acquitted nonactor Edouard Dermithe) could in fact pass -- together -- for their narrator's blond double. Or at least one of Cocteau's self-caricatures. In their cocoon, the soon-orphaned siblings, both in their late-teens, fester and fuss, sucking in their eventual objects of desire to the squalor. When Elisabeth lands and then is widowed the day after her betrothal to a rich Jew ("Elisabeth hadn't married him for his money, nor for his elegance. She'd married him for his death"), she inherits a gothic mansion in which the film's four principals soon lose any sense of reality. Melville tightens the noose slowly until Elisabeth becomes, in Cocteau's words, "a nocturnal spider ... spinning her webs." Welcome to the Bug House. Gilbert Adair's commentary track unravels more mystery: "For everything that you actually see on the screen, there's not a detail in this film that is not Cocteauian: clothes, the hairdos, the faces, the sets, the voiceover." What was left for one of the French New Wave's precursors, Jean-Pierre Melville? Besides an enveloping tide of Vivaldi and Bach? Cocteau has the answer: "Beauty enjoys immense privileges -- even from those unaware of it."

Also Out Now

Ivan's Childhood (Criterion, $29.95): Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's unforgettable 1962 debut about a 12-year-old red army scout at the front in the waning days of World War II. Exquisitely photographed in monochromatic tones, Tarkovsky's "poetic cinema" plays out as anything but black and white.

Forbidden Games (Criterion, $29.95): Past its brutal opening sequence, Parisians fleeing the German Luftwaffe, René Clément's 1952 storybook tale (don't miss the alternate book ends) of orphaned Paulette and adopter Michel's growing Pet Semetary plants yet another childhood in too-soft topsoil.

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Les Enfants Terribles, Criterion, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean Cocteau, Ivan's Childhood, Forbidden Childhood

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