Film reviews

Jacques Doniol-Valcroze I: Forbidden Games as Challenge to Traditional French Film-making

The little blurb about the film Forbidden Games, written by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (1920-1989) in October 1952, deserves a quick mention. It does not offer an analysis of the film but rather presents itself as a laudation of Clément’s “victory” (Doniol-Valcroze 1952: 5). It gives us an idea about the critical reception of Forbidden Games when it was first presented to the public.

Jacques Doniol-Valcroze was a French author and film critic, screenplay writer, actor and director. Having worked as a film critic for Revue de Cinéma from 1947 to 1949, he co-founded the famous film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma in 1951, together with André Bazin and Joseph-Marie Lo Duca. His writings contributed heavily to the development of the Nouvelle Vague, which shaped French cinema of the 1950ies and 60ies. Also, he worked with director and fellow film critic for Cahiers du Cinéma, Pierre Kast on more than one occasion, who was another adamant proponent of the Nouvelle Vague. 

“We are whole-heartedly applauding this victory”, Doniol-Valcroze writes about the success of Forbidden Games in France and beyond. The “victory over the injustice of non-selection in Cannes”, i.e. at the renowned Cannes film festival in 1952, the “victory over the indeterminable Venetian intrigues”, i.e. at the Venice Biennale of the same year, the “victory of a courageous producer whom adversity did not discourage” (Robert Dorfmann), and lastly, the “victory of a very talented director who had the audacity to broach an unusual subject, to treat it without concessions to the diverse tastes of the day and to have two children transport a poetic message, painful but pure” (René Clément; Doniol-Valcroze 1952: 5). 

What Doniol-Valcroze praises about the film (once again, no mention of the novel or its author, and not of the film writers either) is mainly its courage to be “difficult” in the day of a spectatorship “that has not been familiarized with a tone so bare of artifice, with topics that audaciously link such delicate problems as childhood, the war and the misery of the times”. In the making of Forbidden Games, the producer and the director have banked on “quality and not on easiness” (Doniol-Valcroze 1952: 6), he states. 

This makes the film a “test film”, the reception of which he finds worthy of tracking: He would like to “follow its commercial career” within the coming year, “which would shed light on more problems of French cinema” than any “sterile polemics” could. One can gather from this snide remark that Doniol-Valcroze seems to have been of the opinion that the wider French audience, the French cinema culture of the time did and would not value difficult films, even those of quality. 

In this way, rather than making the film the main focus, Doniol-Valcroze uses the opportunity of speaking about Forbidden Games as a steppingstone to voicing his own agenda in relation to the future development of French cinema. His lines betray that he is peeved, not necessarily with a general audience that would not know to appreciate films “of quality”, but rather with cineastes of the time that did not dare taking risks for fear of losing this wider audience. So Doniol-Valcroze’s blurb ends up being more of a pointer towards filmmakers needing to develop a certain openness to experimentation – i.e. to Doniol-Valcroze’s understanding of the principles of the Nouvelle Vague, which he is thereby promoting. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *