Children’s Minds in the Line of Fire Blog
ANTI-WAR MANIFESTO — Forbidden Games (1952)
Ana Belchior Melícias
"The opposite of play is not what is serious but what is real." (Freud, 1908)
Produced shortly after the end of World War II, and remarkably close to the memory of its horror and devastation, Forbidden Games (1952) is a film inspired by the novel Les Jeux Inconnus (1947) by François Boyer, which ”...manages to be incredibly deep and emotionally complex, despite its seeming (and deceptive) simplicity..."(4)
What is the meaning of inconnus after all? The death drive in the lethal/legitimate adult games which superimpose death on life? The innocent-secret-forbidden children's games, which challenge the limits of the law of both Church and Father?
During the Nazi occupation, a convoy of civilians in an exodus from Paris to the countryside is bombed on a bridge. Trying to save her puppy, five-year-old Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) witnesses the death of her parents, absorbing the guilt of her attempt, in vain, to save her dog. She touches her puppy's stiffened snout and then her own face again. Orphaned, she begins to wander in a state of non-reality, holding the body of "Jock-her-dead-part" in her arms. She touches her dead mother's face and then her own.
Is it possible to mourn what cannot be represented? What can be done both externally and internally about trauma, death and violence? About the mechanism of traumatogenesis, Ferenczi says: "first, there is the complete paralysis of all spontaneity, then of all thought work, including the occurrence of physical states similar to those of shock, or even coma, and then the establishment of a new - displaced - situation of equilibrium."(3) Without representation, the traumatic becomes "Sisyphean," returning and repeating itself incessantly.
Freud warned of the insidious installation of melancholy when "the shadow of the object falls upon the ego"... The alternative, in intrasubjective terms, is the creative and transformative power of thought. But in intersubjective terms, what truly ends up prevailing over many generations, decades and even centuries, is transgenerational transmission and the unavoidable propagation of the frozen historical trauma, which becomes part of the collective identity of the group/nation that suffered catastrophic loss, helplessness, and humiliation at enemy hands (6).
René Clément's film is a true anti-war manifesto. It depicts the vulgar but symbolic “warfare” between neighbours Dollé and Gouard; the traumatic consequences of nameless dread, especially in childhood; the impossibility of fulfilling the farewell rituals crucial to the work of elaborative mourning; and the de-humanisation and violence leading to exodus, broken families, orphaned children, and millions of refugees all over the world. The film is synchronous with what we have witnessed, with horror and shock, in the recent Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the return of war to Europe.
Paulette, the angelic Parisian orphan, meets ten-year-old Michel (Georges Poujouly) and is taken in by his rural family (Dollé). Michel defies the limits of both Church and Father, giving himself fully to primary maternal preoccupation of Paulette, this small, charming little treasure. He spares no effort to protect her from frustration or pain. A Ferenczian wise-baby, Michel protects Paulette, thereby protecting himself from his own helplessness.
For the two children, play becomes the potential intermediary space (Winnicott) for re-connecting to life. Paulette cries out for the rituals necessary to the mourning process, which she was unable to partake in following her parent’s deaths. These are duly fulfilled - prayers, mass, funeral, burial, flowers - with Michel's brother.
United in their complicity and tenderness, they engender an illusory world to cope with tragedy and to represent the traumatic, moving from the passively lived to the actively played (fort-da). They indefatigably pursue the meaning of death through the creation of a cemetery-artwork, interweaving aesthetics and ethics in a final humanising act, foreclosed by war. ‘The dead should not be without company’, says Michel. Paulette asks, ‘Are they buried so they don't get wet when it rains?’
A series of forbidden episodes, animated in equal measure by the strength of secrecy and infantile cruelty and sadism, give shape to the construction-elaboration-transformation of a microcosm: in a crescendo of evolutionary complexity (phylogenesis), the children imagine the living beings that they would bury - worms, snakes, lizards, cats, dogs, cows, horses, people - while they go on burying small animals. They steal crosses, the religious symbol par excellence, desecrating the real cemetery, and distribute fourteen crosses (stations of the Passion of Christ) throughout their cemetery-artwork, according to the size of the buried animals, amplifying the collective death of war.
"May God welcome you in paradise", is the parroted phrase at each burial, ritualising hope. The children personalise the graves, moving from the mineral (stones) to the vegetable (flowers) to the animal world (snails) and finally to the realm of the symbolic-word (crosses and signs with names written on them), choreographing a true ritual of farewell. The cemetery is finished and the mythical apple signalling the exit from the paradise of childhood is here, offered by Michel and refused by Paulette...
Must every crime have a punishment? The end of innocence, ambivalence, and the beginning of reality are internally imposed, and the tribute for the forbidden games arrives through betrayal: "Paulette is constantly torn away from her attachment figures, from her emotional landmarks, which are essential for her growth. She is torn away from her parents, then from her dog, and finally from her adoptive family."(5)
The film ends abruptly, placing us counter-transferentially in touch with the horrors of war and its transgenerational and traumatic destructiveness. At the beginning of the film a couple dies on the bridge. Another meets at the end of the film at the train station. Only then does Paulette verbalise her orphanhood, calling out, ‘Mama!’ We are left profoundly shaken by the real pain of her helplessness, wishing that Paulette - like all refugee children in the world today - might be able to remain in the childlike situation of protection and support which is so essential to children. As the poet Adília Lopes says, “...there is no consolation for very sad things, only revolt."
And the beginnings connect to the ends...
In the beginning Paulette calls out: ‘Michel... Michel... Michel..., I'm afraid of the dark.’ At the end, in the train station and on her way to the orphanage, in the dark caused by this new, brutal severing, she calls out: ‘Michel... Michel... Michel…', giving herself his surname, Dollé. She thus leaves anonymity, naming the hope of a future reunion and taking with her a living object to search for.
It is up to us psychoanalysts to build that most difficult of bridges, connecting despair with hope through culture and civilisation, as Freud tells us in his reply to Einstein (2):
And how long shall we have to wait before the rest of mankind become
pacifists too? There is no telling. But it may not be Utopian to hope that
these two factors, the cultural attitude and the justified dread of the
consequences of a future war, result in putting an end to the waging of
war. By what paths this will come about we cannot guess. But one thing we can say: whatever fosters the growth of civilization works at the same time against war
. (Freud, 1933, p. 215)
Ana Belchior Melícias
Psychoanalyst of the Portuguese Psychoanalytical Society (PPS) and IPA \ Children and Adolescents Analyst \ Trainer of the Institute of Psychoanalysis \ Trainer of Bick Mother-Infant Observation Method
(1) Melícias, A.B. (2021). O enigma da morte — BRINCADEIRAS PROIBIDAS (1952), in: Blog Cinema & Psicanálise - 21.02.2021 - https://cinemapsicanalise.pt/2021/02/21/o-enigma-da-morte-brincadeiras-proibidas-1957/
(2) Freud, S. (1933). Why War?. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXII (1932-1936): New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis and Other Works, 195-216.
(3) Ferenczi, S. (1992). Análise de crianças com adultos. In S. Ferenczi, Obras completas, Psicanálise 4 (pp. 69-83). São Paulo: Martins Fontes. (Trabalho original publicado em 1931), p. 79.
(4) Blog - http://eusoucinemapt.blogspot.com/2014/10/jeux-interdits.html
(5) Avis-Gallu - Opinião sobre o filme Jeux interdits (1952) - A cada um sua própria cruz por gallu - SensCritique 02/01/2021, 18 (35).
(6) Volkan, V. (2020). Large-Group Psychology: Racism, Societal Divisions, Narcissistic Leaders and Who We Are Now, Oxfordshire: Phoenix.
Original Title - Jeux Interdits \ English Title - Forbidden Games \ Year - 1952
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