Book reviews Film reviews

Claude Mauriac: The “World of the Little People”  

Claude Mauriac (1914-1996) was a French author and journalist. Between 1944 and 1949, he was Charles de Gaulle’s personal secretary before starting to work as a film critic for Le Figaro Littéraire, a French daily morning newspaper with a long tradition in France. He was also a close friend of philosopher Michel Foucault’s. 

On May 29, 1952, Mauriac published a full article about Clément’s film Jeux interdits/Forbidden Games titled “Terre des Petits d’hommes (Jeux interdits)” (“The World of the Little People [Forbidden Games]”) in Le Figaro Littéraire. The film was generally receiving quite a bit of attention in the media at the time, having been an enormous international success after its initial rejection at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival and following reception of a Grand Prix Indépendent Festival de Cannes award. Mauriac’s article is another interesting source to consider when collecting and studying critical responses to the film as well as the novel. 

In his review, Mauriac devotes his attention entirely to the film. Even though he mentions that the film was an adaptation of a novel by François Boyer, he does not compare the latter to the former or give the text attention in any other way. And this is despite the fact that one of the features of the film he praises the most is its dialogue. He states the latter was written by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, without mentioning 1. this writing team’s starting point, i.e. the original film script written by François Boyer, and 2. François Boyer’s assistance in the re-writing process, recorded in the film credits. As Bazin pointed out, Aurenche’s and Bost’s “work focused less on the novel than on Boyer’s original script, which was already entirely in dialogue-form. This dialogue is largely retained in the film (as well as in the novel), and it would only be fair to point out that the credit for it should be given to Boyer, not to Aurenche and Bost, as most critics (myself included) had at first thought” (Bazin in Cardullo 2015: 152). Mauriac does not seem to be aware of this (yet). Nevertheless, the statements he makes about the film dialogue can therefore, to an extent, also be applied to the novel’s.

What Mauriac appreciates the most about the dialogue is what he claims to be its authenticity. The writers that produced it, he says, “managed, by force of talent, to recreate children’s cruel innocence; art’s transposition once more appears more real than nature, and a sort of enchantment saves us from irritation” (Mauriac 1952: n.p.). Even though it is “not what one initially notices in this film of such a rare quality” – that would rather be the beginning’s “educated simplicity” and “the beauty of Robert Juillard’s images” – it is “around the pronounced words that one’s experienced joy crystalizes. Joy that is not only aesthetic, since it touches our heart. Poetry that is less flowing than permeating, and which is of a sort that cinema rarely graces us with” (Mauriac 1952: n.p.). 

Mauriac finds both the gestures and the dialogue of the children much more convincing than the rather „inauthentic“ adult actors’, who he feels “sound false”. However, this does not matter to him very much because he either “got used to them” or they just do not “bother us anymore” after a while because the children and their game are his main focus, the adult characters are not (Mauriac 1952: n.p.).

While, according to Mauriac, Clément demonstrated exceptional skill in depicting children’s “internal universe by means of the most externalized art form that exists”, he keeps coming back to the magical power and attraction of words, especially those spoken by the children. For him, the film opens a door to a world that is normally hidden away from adults. But this is not only a visual experience for the spectator. He describes “our complete delight, watching and listening to these children […], at having the privilege, us, to surprise and, what is more difficult, to understand […]: the game. […] What is important is that artifice has been made invisible to us and that, playing […], these kids give us the impression of playing like children play, which means, in the most secretive way that exists, even when in public” (Mauriac 1952: n.p.). 

This is the central point of his critique of the film as he emphasizes that its most noteworthy achievement is the truthful insight into a world that normally remains hidden from adults’ eyes and the poetic depiction of which, for him, possesses “the power of evidence” (Mauriac 1952: n.p.). Ultimately, it is this glimpse that offers not only more knowledge of children, but a deeper understanding of the world of adults. “It is via the view of children that the world of grownups appears to us here,” he writes. “The world of men has become the one of the little people. Everything has changed in character. Nothing has the same meaning as before. It becomes about respecting nothing else but this absolute: the transformative power of childhood” (Mauriac 1952: n.p.).

Taking Mauriac’s critique to heart, it is important, in my opinion, to recognize the role Boyer’s skill as a dialogue writer played in the creation of this effect that the film not only had on Mauriac but, as he states, on the “vast majority of the public” (Mauriac 1952: n.p.). 


André Bazin, “Clément’s Jeux interdits”. In: Robert Cardullo (ed.), André Bazin on French Cinema, 1938-1958. Berlin: Logos, 2015.

Claude Mauriac, “Terres des Petits d’hommes (Jeux interdits)”. In: Le Figaro Littéraire (May 29, 1952). Archival material from Revue de presse film – Jeux interdits du 15/05/1952 au 17/01/1968. Paris: Cinémathèque Française. Retrieved May 7, 2018, via Online, n.p.

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