Thursday, December 25, 2003

I'd been wanting to see Jeux d'enfants ever since I caught its trailer. Quite frankly, with a title like Love Me If You Dare, I wasn't strong enough to resist the seductive appeal of such a challenge.

Jeux d'enfants is a story about the relationship between Julien and Sophie who have been best friends since childhood. The story begins when Julien, in a moment of pity and generosity, chooses to share his treasure, a tin box decorated with a picture of a carousel, with Sophie after she has been tormented by the rest of the schoolkids for being a "dirty Polack". Thus begins their game of "Cap? Pas Cap?" (pretty much meaning "are you game?"). Whoever has possession of the box has the power to dare the other to do virtually anything, and once the other has completed the dare, he/she will receive the box, and so on. This game continues even unto adulthood, with Julien and Sophie unable to resist the dizzying destrictuve lure of their childhood game as life progresses. Sophie, wild, rebellious and reckless, and Julien, a man struggling to be responsible, yet possesses a hidden cruel streak, hide behind the game and are unable to admit their true feelings: that they are crazily in love with each other.

Upon exiting the cinema, my first reaction was that this show - a dark, twisted comedy - wasn't as great as its review in the local paper (four stars out of five). I didn't understand the ending, and I, despite my tendency to look beyond the surface, felt that the two people were callous, selfish and that everything that happened was unrealistic. I understand now that this show was never meant to be realistic. Rather, it was meant to show the kind of love and passion that existed between the two, a kind of sadistic relationship that made the two want to hurt each other rather than admit that they truly cared, and that the game - an addiction, as Julien says - consumes the two to such an extent that no one else exists or is permitted to exist in their own world.

Spoiler alert! The director, Yann Samuel, does a pretty good job here. Some of the dares that Julien and Sophie play on each other are played upon yet another party - the audience. In the scene when Sophie goes to the library in order to tell Julien that she has taken him up on his dare - to forgive him - she sits down at a table across a male head and also across from the camera, and confesses her feelings for him, telling him that she cannot tell when he is being truthful and when he is playing the game, imploring him to tell her that he loves her because if she were to say it first, she wouldn't be able to tell whether he's being sincere, or if he's treating it like a game. He takes her hands, and the next thing we know, she stands up from the table, and the male turns out to be a complete stranger and she's just rehearsing her speech, or something similar. Another scene has Julien bringing Sophie out to dinner, four years after they last spoke, and he tells her that he's in love, has been for years and wants to get married and that he needs her so that he can get married, passing her the rings so that she can keep them until the ceremony. She looks at him with disbelief, longing, hope and then joy in her eyes, before nodding mutely, having lost the ability to speak. He stands up and proclaims to the restaurant, "She agrees! You'll be my witness." Confused, she looks at him, while he beckons a girl over and introduces her as his fiancee. Leaning over, he whispers, "You said I could never hurt you. I can." before removing a metal cover from the serving tray beside them to reveal the tin box. With tears and pain in her eyes, she just accepts it, before, of course, coming up with another audacious dare on the day of the wedding itself.

The fantasy sequences that Julien indulges in are reminiscent of Amelie, and indeed, this movie has been called a darker version of Amelie. The sequences are cute, funny and irreverent, and are definitely a highlight of this movie. Another high point are the four versions of La Vie En Rose that pop up during the four chapters of the movie. There's a sweet, childish one that comes up in the beginning, Louis Armstrong's classic rendition, one done by Trio Esperenza, and the one that comes on during the credits, and my favourite, the trip-hop version done by French singer, Zazie.

The child actors, Thibault Verhaeghe (Julien) and Jos├ęphine Lebas-Joly (Sophie) do a good job of portraying two kindred souls. Guillaume Canet does a pretty good job as the grown-up Julien as well, but Marion Cotillard, as rebellious, wild Sophie, is delightful, able to portray anger, craziness and vulnerability all at the same time. Her eyes are capable of conveying so many emotions.

As The Straits Times puts it: "Every moment is accentuated by her incredible eyes that play hide and seek with her emotions. She is the film's untamed heart. You sense her fleeting, longing feelings and this movie's mischievous, defiant instinct. It makes you want to go out and play too."

Definitely one of the more difficult to understand movies that I've watched this year. Do I feel like going out and playing? Only a little, I'm afraid.

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