Childish Games : Antonio Chavarrías’ “Forbidden Games”
Catalan scripwriter, director, and producer Antonio Chavarrías, who notably co-produced the 2009 Golden Bear laureate with The Milk of Sorrow [+see also:
film profile], this year competes at the festival with Childish Games [+see also:
film profile], a cross between a psychological drama, a cruel fairy tale, the tale of a love triangle, and a horror film, that takes its roots in a child’s universe and opens with the night-time whisperings of a worried young girl.
We then meet Daniel (Juan Diego Botto) and Laura (Bárbara Lennie), an ordinary young couple who are happy and trying to have a child. They are given this opportunity when someone from Daniel’s past, the strange Mario, seeks him out to talk to him about a mysterious “accident” in the past that killed his little sister Clara. When he is turned away by Daniel, he kills himself in front of his child, Julia (Mágica Pérez), in a confusing scene that is perhaps the strongest of the whole film. Laura, who doesn’t realise how uncomfortable the whole thing is for Daniel, then decides to look after the young orphan girl. As her maternel feelings intensify, Daniel’s uneasiness becomes increasingly unbearable.
As Daniel increasingly sees Clara in Julia, what is probably the cause of his great guilt, that we discover through images of the drama in the past, is acted out, Vertigo style, by an increasingly paranoid Daniel, as if the whole affair were a revenge project, for which he sees the proof to be that Julia wears a red ribbon in her hair identical to Clara’s. The two girls also share the same nursery rhyme "Dictado" (the original title of the film), a simple and charming text that progressively takes on both worrying and magical tones. It is as if Julia’s arrival has sent Daniel back into the dark woods where the monsters of his childhood and soul are hiding.
Neither the film’s premise nor its ingredients are entirely new, but they don’t seem any the less promising at the beginning. However, instead of exploiting the darkness of the subject and the possibilities of genre cinema more, as one might expect, the film dwells a little too long perhaps on how Julia’s arrival affects, even breaks up, the young couple. This deprives us of the surprises announced by the excellent suicide scene, which would have allowed the intelligence of the young actress, an illusionist’s daughter (hence her name) with an innate talent for the ambigous, to shine. We also regret that the monster only emerges from the woods very late in the film so that we cannot properly enjoy the film’s conclusion. The end is rather hasty, although we keep our eyes open...
(Translated from French)
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