Les Parents Terribles

Jean Cocteau’s filming of his 1938 play ten years later is both a lesson in mise en scene and an illustration of the paradox that accentuating the theatrical aspects of theater on-screen makes them quintessentially cinematic. (To my knowledge, the only other film that does this to the same degree is Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge.) The accomplishment becomes all the more impressive if one considers how mannered and affected Cocteau’s material is. The sheltered son of a middle-aged couple living with the wife’s unmarried sister falls in love with a young woman without realizing that she’s his father’s mistress, and the terror faced by the mother at the prospect of losing her son is matched by terror faced by the mistress in being exposed. The characters may seem outlandish individually, but collectively they bring credence to one another as the plot unfolds in two claustrophobic flats, and the cast is masterful: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Yvonne de Bray, Marcel Andre, Gabrielle Dorzoat. Cocteau cuts and moves his camera in ways that are both eccentric and definitive. In French with subtitles. 98 min. (JR)

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