Jeux D’Enfants – #stillshot

In #stillshot, Features, HOME by Hannah Oliver

 #stillshot is a feature in which someone selects a frame from a film, episode or campaign and discusses its content. The idea being to illustrate how the art of film composition, aesthetica and acting expression can convey the messages of entire movements and ephemeralities in a split-second. Also, ’cause there’s some pretty cool film shots out there.

Jeux D’Enfants – 2003

jeux d'enfantsDirected and Written by: Yann Samuell

Starring: Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Thibault Verhaeghe, Joséphine Lebas-Joly

Jeux D’enfants is one of my all-time favourite films. It’s a French film (with English subtitles) about two best friends since childhood – Sophie and Julien – who use a simple game of Dare as an escape from their sometimes taxing, mostly monotonous lives. As they grow older, the dares evolve into hurtful, criminal, and even life-threatening challenges until Sophie and Julien are forced to confront the motivation behind their once-childish-now-cruel game. Vandalism, jilting, standing on train tracks: it’s all there.

France has an exemplary reputation in many different arenas – food, fashion, wine – but their cinema is the crème de la crème. French cinema is an immersive experience – both visually and aurally (the film boasts several versions of the iconic “La Vie En Rose”), and Jeux D’enfants is no exception. I honestly think that the entire film could be told through a series of pictures – without a single word spoken – and still have as profound an effect, so I really had my work cut out for me, choosing just one #stillshot to write about.

The film is littered with these quintessentially French, whimsical sequences – à la Amélie – that remind me of those stereoscope reels (in those trendy goggles) that were all the rage in the ‘90s. At first, these moments are fitting, as they illustrate that these are “children’s games” – the metaphorical adult chalking off questionable behaviour to the naïveté that comes with youth – but as they grow older, they tether Sophie and Julien’s increasingly irredeemable acts to their childhood innocence, to the love that they share.

But, ultimately, I went with the shot that opens and closes the film – and with good reason. The little tin box – which catalysed both their friendship and their twisted game – became a symbol of their bond and a tangible proclamation of their love. Each new dare began the same way: Sophie and Julien would present the other with the box and inquire, “cap ou pas cap?” (are you game? are you brave? are you able? or not? – it’s easy to see why the English title is Love Me If You Dare: accurate, though lacking the multi-faceted subtlety of the French title). The box – a replica of a merry-go-round – represents their daring, their willingness to do anything, no matter how reckless; how painful; how selfish in order to keep them connected. Ironically, it also epitomizes the opposite: where the box was once a way to escape their lives, it is now a way to avoid acknowledging their love for each other. It is a symbol of their cowardice, their refusal to participate in the most terrifying, exciting dare they could ever dream up.

Given to Julien by his ailing mother, the box represents everything good in the world: he says that it’s a treasure unlike anything else on Earth. The fact that it’s a merry-go-round embodies the nature of Sophie and Julien’s relationship: from the moment the game began, there is a sense that they were on a ride from which neither could disembark.  Indeed, throughout the film, the box is in a constant state of motion – whether it’s passing rapidly from Sophie’s hand to Julien’s; or clunking down the stairs; or rolling down a church aisle in lieu of an “I object!” – yet in this shot, the box is fixed, forever, in a block of cement. The obvious symbolism in no way detracts from its beauty, nor its poignancy: the game has stopped; they’ve finally played their last hand and achieved their  “dream of an endless love”.

Alternatively, thought not necessarily antithetically, the image of the cemented merry-go-round immortalizes the eternality of their game. In the film, this seemingly juxtaposing idea is communicated seamlessly: the alternate endings – the cement filling slowly as they embrace; and a scene of an elderly Sophie and Julien, perpetually playing – are shown sequentially; the camera rotating slowly over the immovable tin box acting as a fitting coda to their game. “A stupid game? Perhaps. But it was our game”, Julien summates. And, to quote the ever-wise Katniss Everdeen, “there are much worse games to play.”

Sonia Muhwezi

Sonia Muhwezi is the Deputy Editor of FILM, THEATRE & TELEVISION at PTL. She recently graduated from Brighton University, where she studied English Language and Lit. She hopes to go into Publishing. In other Sonia related info, it’s worth mentioning that she can turn any conversation into a game of Six Degrees to Harry Potter and is a Beyoncé stan.

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