Film reviews

Henry Chapier: Jeux Interdits, a “Historical Document and Reflection of an Era’s Sensibility”

The first detail one notices in Henry Chapier’s review of Clément’s Jeux interdits for Combat is its publication date: January 1968. 16 years after the film was first presented to the public, Chapier dedicated another article to it, emphasizing its continuing significance at a time when one of the biggest cultural revolutions in Western history was kicked off by student protests.

Like many fellow film critics of the first half of the 20th century, Henry Chapier (1933-2019) was a French journalist with extensive knowledge of his field of criticism and an impressive career. He was also an actor, television presenter and film director. He knew and worked alongside François Truffaut for Arts-Spectacles, and became editor-in-chief of the culture pages of Combat in 1959. Combat was a newspaper that was founded during WWII as a clandestine publication of the French Resistance. Chapier then started working for the culture sector of the TV station France 3 in 1978, hosting several different popular television programs in the following years. In 1996, he became a jury member of the Cannes Film Festival.

Chapier considers Jeux interdits to be Clément’s “masterpiece”, without discussing the role other persons played in creating its quality and its massive success. However, some of what Chapier observes certainly also points to the skill of the film writers Bost, Aurenche and Boyer, even if Chapier seems to adhere to the Politique des Auteurs, understanding the film to be mainly the director’s achievement. The film has, he states, stayed relevant despite the change in generation of viewers since its initial conception, despite a great “mutation of taste and attitudes towards society”, as well as of “the mythology of childhood”, and despite the succession of “fashions of cinematographic writing and of the mise-en-scène” that had taken place.

Even though he applauds Clément’s skill, he finds that the main lesson to be gleaned from the film is not its director or “auteur’s” talent. “If it does not have one wrinkle, if it still wields magic, it is because in it, Clément casts a tender glance, a scrupulous glance at childhood that never stops at formal effort but goes further, as if in order to pry away the secret from innocence, from the first emotions of this adolescence that knows about the dawning of an interest in others.” Where exactly he sees this “going further”, and how exactly this is done, he does not explain.

The “purity” of the two child characters impersonated by actors Brigitte Fossey and Robert Poujouly is another aspect that speaks to Chapier. “Rarely has a film managed to express – without melodrama or artificiality – such subtle and delicate stirrings of the soul as those of ‘Jeux interdits’,” he claims. This is where he locates the “poetry” of the film, which he generally finds a rare achievement in cinema. He sums up that it lies in the particular equilibrium it strikes between a dreamlike quality, grace, and naturalness, creating “a climate which tolerates neither one-upmanship nor artificiality”. Again, Chapier does not further elaborate on any one of these points, which raises questions: What does he mean by dream-like quality? How exactly is the film gracious and natural? And how does the film manage to depict anything without artificiality, being, after all, just another medium of storytelling? 

In Chapier’s opinion, this poetic quality of the film, built on attentive and sensitive observation and authenticity in its depictions, is what made it a classic, a part of “the imaginary film museum” of the public. “It stays in our memory as a pretty clearing, as a series of serene chords coming out of the racket of the war. […] We are looking at a historical document, and the reflection of the sensibility of an era.” As such the film, he underlines, should not be analyzed apart from the context in which it was produced. Nevertheless, he asserts it possesses a certain timelessness, belonging to the categories of “the beautiful and the touching, and not to the provoking manifests of whichever school” was modern at the time.

Chapier’s commentary on the film is brief and does not go into much depth. What comes across very clearly is his passionate admiration for it and its maker. However, he does not share with his readers the details that led him to this strong emotional reaction. This might be due to the fact that Chapier’s article is less of a real film review – after all, the film was not new anymore – and more of a reminder of its status as a modern film classic that continues to speak to its viewers – and to the readers of Combat. From our present-day point of view, however, it would be interesting to learn why exactly that was the case. Did the generation that started the cultural revolution of the late sixties find their values reflected in the film and if so, in what way/s? And did these differ from the way/s the people in the 1950ies understood the film? More research will be necessary to shed light on these questions, i.e. on the cultural/political/social significance of Jeux interdits for French and international societies at such a turning point of history.


Henry Chapier, “‘Jeux interdits’ de René Clément: Une poésie sereine”, in: Combat (Jan. 17, 1968), n.p.

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