Let me tell you what happens in the first fifteen minutes of this movie so that you can get a taste of what we're dealing with.
A little girl and her parents are trying to escape from a German air raid during World War II. The little girl's dog wiggles out of her arms, and she chases after it. While her parents are following her across the bridge, the bombs start falling, and although they are able to pull her to safety, her mother, father, and the dog are all gunned down.
She continues to carry her dog with her until she's pulled up onto a cart next to an old lady, who curtly informs her that the dog is dead. Then the fucking lady takes the dog and throws it off the bridge into the river, where its sad little corpse just floats away. Wanting her dog back, she climbs off the cart and follows the river.
Long story short, this opening sequence ends with a newly orphaned five-year-old wandering through the forest alone clutching the dead body of her beloved pet.
Seriously though, it's like this movie knew every single thing that would make me want to hide under my bed and cry, and then they put it into one single sequence.
But that's really all the movie is about, though. Death. Buckle up kids, it's about to get horribly depressing.
Little Paulette wanders away from the river and eventually runs into a local farmboy named Michel. He takes her back to his family's house, where she tells his mother and father what happened to her parents. Upon hearing this, they bring her in as one of their own (for the time being, anyway).
Next heartbreaking moment (there's about one every five minutes): Paulette says that she wants to go back to her mama and papa on the bridge. Michel tells her that they're not there anymore, that they're in a hole. She wonders if they're in a hole so that they're protected from the rain, then worries that her unburied dog will get wet. Shut up I'm not crying you're crying.
Oh god then she goes back for the dog and is trying to find a place to bury it. There's just this tiny little girl running around with a dead terrier and a gardening hoe and look, the odds of me keeping it together for this entire movie are not great right now.
So Michel (who has adorably taken her under his wing) helps her bury the dog behind the mill. He explains the concept of a cemetery to Paulette, that they're buried together so that the dead don't get lonely. But of course, her dog is the only one buried there, so won't he get lonely? And so begins their plan to create an animal cemetery there, to keep her dog company.
This is the story of two children who don't understand death, but are surrounded by it. They try to come to terms with it, because they certainly can't escape it, but the best they can do is to mimic the traditions and rituals that they've seen before. Death is putting something in a hole in the ground, nothing more. To Paulette, it's a game of finding the right size cross to steal for each dead animal.
Because after Michel's several failed attempts at building crosses for their makeshift cemetery, he starts stealing them from around town, even taking the cross meant for his recently deceased brother Georges. To him, they are just objects, and he wants so badly to make Paulette happy by collecting as many crosses as he can.
Eventually, his thievery draws attention, and the blame is quickly placed on him. But before his father has the opportunity to beat the location of the crosses out of him, the police show up to take little Paulette away to the Red Cross, where she will be sent to an orphanage. Alarmed, Michel promises to give the crosses back if they let Paulette stay. His father agrees, then promptly goes back on his word as soon as Michel tells him where the crosses are, and Paulette is taken away.
But before she gets to the orphanage, she is left alone by the nun transporting her, and she wanders off in search of her beloved Michel. That's where the movie ends.
It should be clear to everyone by now that Forbidden Games packs an almost unbearably sad emotional wallop. A huge part of this is down to the tremendous performances that director René Clément is able to coax out of his child actors. One look at Brigitte Fossey's grief-stricken eyes and you are guaranteed to be a sobbing mess on the floor.
Made in 1952, Forbidden Games serves as a jarringly unsentimental look at the horrors of war through the eyes of children. France being one of the countries that was most physically devastated by World War II, the scars of a war only seven years old are especially vivid in this film. It's definitely worth watching...but when I say watching, I mean staring uncomprehendingly at the screen with dead eyes.