Book reviews Film reviews

Georges Charensol: Jeux Interdits, an “Antifamilial and Anticlerical Pamphlet”

Let us take a closer look at Georges Charensol’s evaluation of René Clément’s film, since it is one of the few articles that judge it rather critically.

Georges Charensol (1899-1995) was a French journalist, art and film critic. He wrote for several highly distinguished art, film and literature magazines, such as Paris-Journal, La Vie du Rail and Les Nouvelles Littéraires, edited by Maurice Martin du Gard (a cousin of famous writer Roger Martin du Gard). Among his friends and acquaintances were some of the most influential writers, artists and film-makers of the time, such as René Clair, Marc Chagall, Georges Rouault, Robert Bresson, and Henry de Montherlant. He portrayed them and their era in a total of 20 books. In 1946, Charensol became a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, and in 1949, he became editor-in-chief of Les Nouvelles Littéraires. Until his death, he was active for some major associations in the literary and cultural sector, such as the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

In an article for Les Nouvelles Littéraires, published in May 1952, he reviews Clément’s film Jeux interdits in conjunction with a French-Italian film co-production, Les sept pêchés capitaux (The seven capital sins; March/April 1952). The second part of the article, dedicated to the latter, is rather irrelevant for my purpose here, so I will not discuss it in more detail. The only aspect Clément’s film and the French-Italian film have in common is the team of screenplay writers: Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, who also wrote scripts for two of the total of eight sketches that together make a portrait of the “seven capital sins”. 

Comparing the film to the book by François Boyer, Charensol’s first source of discontentment lies with both the novel’s and the film’s depictions of the peasants. “One can see”, he writes, “what could have seduced René Clément in the novel by François Boyer, however, what one does not readily understand is how two men as skillful as Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost failed at avoiding the traps of a tale, touching when it evokes ‘the green paradise of childish loves’; heavy and irritating when it paints the peasants whose brutality is of the kind of Zola’s earth inhabitants”. (Once again, the critic does not mention Boyer’s role in the making of the film adaptation.)

The authors of the script (so also Boyer), he says, “were afraid of falling into the cliché of the pastoral, so they used their most somber colors, forgetting that the dark can be just as conventional as the rosy-colored; these stupid and dirty beings [the peasants] therefore appear to us […] improbable.” Also, he observes that “the feelings of the children are hardly shown, whereas the adults invade the screen.”

The writers, he summarizes, could and should have “drawn excellent effects from the contrast between this coarseness and the tenderness that pulls two children to one another, but it seems like they only wished to follow the literary work”. They did so in a manner that does not satisfy Charensol: On the one hand, he laments that the script writers did not make enough of an effort of “recomposition” and “transposition” when they adapted the novel. Therefore the images, he claims, do not transport the “same facts suggested by the abstract word” of the written text. On the other, he criticizes that the film diverged from the novel in relation to the ages of the children (Michel is 11 and Paulette is 9 in the novel, whereas actress Brigitte Fossey is only 5 in the film) – which, in his opinion, makes it unlikely for the children to relate to each other as they do in the novel – while for the most part staying exaggeratedly true to the text.

What bothers Charensol the most, however, is the film’s heavy reliance on what he calls a “vaguely surrealist arsenal, 25 years out of date” and “smelling strongly” of writer Jacques Prévert’s poetry, when it shows macabre scene after macabre scene of burials, followed by two men’s scuffle in an open grave. The writers “insisted on the bizarre and the sordid in such a way that the film ends up, in the most arbitrary fashion, as an antifamilial and anticlerical pamphlet.” This does not seem to speak to Charensol’s values.

Charensol finds this film adaptation of the novel imbalanced and unskillful. The effect is that, for him, the film merely offers an opportunity for Clément to show his director’s skill in depicting events of the tragedies of June 1940 but offers “a denouement that does not satisfy us any more than the novel’s”. Charensol neither further discusses this denouement nor the two diverging endings, which are two of the major differences between the film and the novel. He merely stresses that he is left with a feeling of “pretty vivid disappointment” towards the film, while it is implied he felt similarly about the novel.

Overall, dedicating only one and a half short columns to the film before switching to the review of another, Charensol does not give much attention to Jeux interdits. He barely investigates the workings and cultural meanings of its sujet, themes and motifs. Also, he does not comment on the film’s massive success or the reasons therefore. It is true that both Boyer and Clément have been criticized for their harsh treatment of the peasants by other critics as well. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting and relevant for Charensol to look more closely at the author’s motivation behind this depiction. Then maybe he would have been able to further enlighten his readers on the significance of this depiction as the means of critical satire it was intended to be.


Georges Charensol, “Le Cinéma. Jeux interdits – Les sept pêchés capitaux”, in: Les Nouvelles Littéraires (May 15, 1952), n.p.

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