Jeux d’enfants

I watched this film (released in the United States in 2004 under the title Love Me If You Dare) last night, and thought it was most excellent. I would highly recommend it to those of my readers who haven’t seen it (although you may not want to read this post all the way to the bottom as it gives away bits of the plot).

In essence, it’s a story about two people who fall in love as children but won’t admit it until it’s almost too late. We are introduced to the two as kids. Sophie is Polish, and teased mercilessly for it. Julien’s mother is dying, and he forges a friendship with Sophie through “the game,” a series of escalating dares. And believe me when I say escalating–even as children the two get themselves into some precarious straits and it only gets worse as they age. Indeed, for Julien especially the game starts to become the most important thing in life, with disastrous consequences later. The two live very different lives, Julien relatively well off and accepted in society, and Sophie forced to fight for everything that she gets because of her lower social status. Julien’s father is opposed to their friendship, because Sophie isn’t French, and this becomes a theme in the film. The two grow up, pursue alternate lives, and ultimately marry other people, but their infatuation with each other remains strong. Throughout the film, it’s clear that the two are in love and destined to be with one another, but they don’t admit it to each other, or when one does the other thinks it’s a joke.

This is exemplified by the scene where the two are kissing and Sophie declares that she loves Julien. His response is to treat it as part of the game, because he has become so invested in the game that he doesn’t recognize she has come to step outside of it. Later he realizes his mistake and hurries to her home to make amends, but he only makes the situation worse.

It’s a quintessentially French movie, with superb cinematography and composition. The plot is so simple and essential that you can lose yourself in the rich imagery of the film. I almost found myself hating the characters–both were stupid and rather shallow, Julian at one point throwing his love for Sophie away in the pursuit of fiscal success. Sophie, too, seems like a nitwit in much of the film. Indeed, in many ways she is the most infuriating character, because she blows her anger at Julien out of proportion and constantly throws his apologies back in his face. She is ferociously proud, and that’s something I can understand because when you are poor and marginalized, your pride is all you own. But the film still captivated me with the visual experience and the timeless love story.

The game becomes a theme in their lives as adults as well. At one point Sophie disrupts Julien’s wedding ceremony, and after their resultant argument she says she won’t speak to him for 10 years. 10 years to the day later, she contacts him again to resume the game. In a climactic series of events, they realize that although they have married other people and created lives for themselves, they are meant for each other. (Something which has of course been clear to the viewer the whole time.) Oddly enough, I don’t find myself pitying their spouses that much, though this may have been a deliberate device on the part of the director, since both were boring, nasty people whom it was hard to like.

However, they worry that the game, which has become all consuming, may ruin any life they build together, so they encase themselves together in concrete to ensure they will be together forever. (This scene is followed by scenes of the two in heaven together, much older but still up to the same tricks.) This scene is somewhat startling, because as a viewer I expected it to be part of the game, and to see the two walk away healthy and alive.

Those of us watching the movie had different reactions to the double suicide scene. One of the people there was repulsed by it, thought it was stupid, and said it ruined the movie for her. I thought that it was an oddly right thing, the only logical ending. The two were clearly meant to be together and this was the only way to cement their love, so to speak. The two were stupid, vain, and filled with the outside world–they understood that in order to maintain the purity of their love, they had to die together. (And I certainly can’t imagine an American movie ending this way–had this been made in Hollywood, I’m sure the two would have divorced their spouses and gone off to live somewhere.)

I’m not an ascriber to the idea that everyone has a soul mate, and I’m not sure I will ever meet someone whom I love that much. But it’s a poetic idea, and I rather like it. If someday I meet someone worthy of encasing myself in concrete for, I’m sure I’ll know. (The movie also raised a question for me–what is the decay rate of organic material embedded in concrete? I’m sure Bill Bass knows.)

[Jeux d’enfants]
[Love Me If You Dare]