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Jean Cocteau - Les Enfants Terribles

  • 1949

  • Starring: Edouard Dermit, Nicole Stéphane


  • A generation had grown up since Jean Cocteau's 1929 novel Les Enfants Terribles first riveted the attention of French youth. In 1949 Cocteau wrote a screen adaptation of the story. The director, J.-P. Melville, began shooting the film while Cocteau was still engaged with Orphée, and so for a time the author led an impossibly schizoid life, working on two major films at once.

    Edouard Dermit, in his third appearance in a Cocteau film, played the male lead of Paul, the "wanly grave" (Francois Truffaut's words) brother. The part of Elizabeth, the morbid sister, was assigned to Nicole Stéphane (née Rothschild). This actress, it turned out, was a cousin of Francine Weisweiller, who had yet to meet Cocteau but who would shortly enter his life forever. In a regrettable miscalculation by Melville, the roles of Dargelos and Agathe were played by the same person, a young actress named Renée Cosima. For its score, the film made the first cinematic use of Baroque music - a Bach-Vivaldi concerto - which the American composer Ned Rorem found "hauntingly right." The film preserved the hothouse climate of the book, with its insinuations of incest in the story of Paul and Elizabeth. French critics condemned Les Enfants Terribles on moral grounds, of course, but the film was ahead of its time, prefiguring two major developments yet to come: the New Wave in filmmaking and the alienated youth of the sixties drug culture.

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