Les Enfants Terribles: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 5 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Paul (Edouard Dermithe) and Elisabeth (Nicole Stephane) are brother and sister, but the two couldn’t be more opposite, despite the close quarters they share. Paul is passive and weak, while his sister Elisabeth is dominant and overbearing, but the two share a bond that is undeniable. Paul was injured in school and since she is already caring for their dying mother, Elisabeth looks after him as well. The two live a rather sequestered lifestyle, mostly spent together in their room, with rare excursions into the outside world. Inside the room, Paul and Elisabeth have built their own world, one that can withstand whatever might threaten their bond, from within or without. In the infrequent occasions they do venture outside or someone wanders in, the siblings unleash mind games of all kinds, to ensure the bond remains intact. But when a glimpse of potential romance arrives, how will Elisabeth react and will the siblings ever be able to leave their unnatural partnership?

If you’ve ever wanted to see controlled chaos, then all you need to do is watch Les Enfants Terribles. The story, written by Jean Cocteau is quite out of control, with off the wall characters and insane situations. But director Jean Pierre Melville doesn’t approach the material to let that shine through, instead he exercises immense control and precision. The result is a little uneven, but it works and Les Enfants Terribles is a very memorable motion picture. Even so, I wouldn’t want to see the movie again soon, as it just doesn’t have the entertainment value. You want to watch and see what happens, but the brother and sister are so unlikable and cumbersome, you can’t wait until the experience ends. Which seems fair to me, as we shouldn’t want to be around people like this, but sometimes, we can’t help but watch their actions. Criterion’s disc is the usual from the label, solid in all respects. I can’t recommend this as a purchase, but a rental is worthwhile.

Video: How does it look?

Les Enfants Terribles is presented in full frame, as intended. This release boasts a new restored transfer and it shows, as the visuals don’t look as worn as you might expect. The print looks quite clean, though grain is present and high at times. The grain never lessens the visuals much however, so no serious concerns there. The black & white image looks great and shows more sharpness than expected, which is always good news. So the visuals have solid detail depth, while contrast is stark and stays accurate throughout, which is crucial here. This is not on par with Criterion’s best restorations, but the movie looks very good and in the end, better than any other available releases.

Audio: How does it sound?

The film’s original French soundtrack is preserved, but that is expected, since this is a Criterion release, after all. The original mono track was used for this disc and while mono is limited in range, this material doesn’t need much in terms of audio power or impact. The music sounds clear and free from distortion, which is impressive for a movie of this age (1950). No traces of problems with dialogue either, as the vocals sound natural and very crisp at all times. This disc also includes optional English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

An audio commentary with journalist Gilbert Adair is up first, loaded with information about Jean Cocteau. Adair is well prepared and has a wealth of Cocteau knowledge, but that isn’t enough to fill the duration. He leaves a lot of silence and even repeats himself on several occasions. Around Jean Cocteau is a short film that examines the relationship between Cocteau and Melville, a subject Adair also address in his commentary session. This disc also includes a host of interviews with cast & crew, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.

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