Jeux D’Enfants (2003)

Jeux d’Enfants is one of those movies you either know about or you don’t. When I asked my friends whether they knew the movie, most of them
didn’t, with the exception of one, who is, like me, a movie whore (meaning: someone who will watch literally anything). As I watched the movie again the other day, I decided it would be nice for a review!

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Jeux d’Enfants (2003) / Love Me If You Dare (English)
Director: Yann Samuell
Writer: Yann Samuell
Stars: Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard
Rating: ★★★★☆

The skinny
Yann Samuell’s movie is about two kids, Julien Janvier (Canet) and Sophie Kowalsky (Cotillard), who, upon meeting each other, start playing a game of dare. As they progress in life, the playful game becomes more and more sinister. But will they be able to remain loyal to the game at all times?

The rundown
The film starts with Sophie (Cotillard) being bullied by other children. Julien (Canet) helps her collect the books that others have thrown into a puddle. To console her, Julien offers her a small tin box that he received from his mother. He asks her to lend it back to him from time to time. Sophie wants to know how important the tin box is to him and challenges him to prove it. This is the beginning of a series of mischievous challenges (“cap ou pas cap?“). We see the two misbehaving in school with their games and wreaking havoc on a wedding. They ignore the consequences of punishment of their games, much to the dismay of their parents and Julien’s father in particular.

It is undeniable that, following the release of Jeunet’s iconic Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain, French cinema had changed forever. Critics even speak of a certain ‘Amelie Poulain-izaion’ of French films over the years and the influence of Amelie is also evident in this first part of the film. Samuell implements the same surrealistic and whimsical elements. There is the green photography, digitally enhanced ultra-swift camera tracking and bright yellow hues, all of which are reminiscent to Jeunet’s style in Amelie. This makes you wonder whether Samuell took Jeunet’s film as a mere inspiration, an homage, or whether it was something more.

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But all of this changes in the second part of the film, when Samuell is able to let go of the hyper-realistic scenes and instead sways you with what is truly the treasure of the film: his original screenplay. We see an older Sophie and Julien. The two have continued playing their games throughout the years but now their games have become more devious. They gradually discover that what was permitted to them as children, becomes increasingly impossible as young adults. This is especially emphasized by Julien’s father who reprimands Julien for his irresponsible behavior. Underneath the playful games and dares, Sophie and Julien are starting to realize that their friendship has grown to become more than just a friendship, but both are still unable to admit this. Canet and Cotillard have great chemistry on screen. Cotillard is as engaging as ever in her role as Sophie. She is one of the few actresses of our time who has the ability to win over an entire audience, even with her mean streak in Sophie’s role. And with a leading lady like Cotillard, there is always a great pressure on the leading man. But Canet, playing a charming Julien, pulls this off with ease.

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Years later, Sophie is a waitress at a local cafeteria while Julien has passed his exams and is at the beginning of his career as an architect. The two protagonists haven’t spoken in years until Julien steps into the cafeteria one day and takes Sophie out for dinner. The two bond again and reminisce their past until it is revealed that Julien has set her up in one of his games. Sophie, realizing this is Julien’s way of getting back at her for walking away years ago, plays along and challenges him in return. While the game had a childlike innocence to it in the first part of the film, it is now showing resentment. Julien resents Sophie for walking away on him years ago and Sophie in turn resents Julien for not confessing his love for her then. If anything, Jeux d’Enfants is a contemporary version of Wuthering Heights, where the two protagonists are kindred spirits of one another but their inability to give in to their love leads to hurtful actions. It’s a love/hate relationship (hello Heathcliff and Catherine) and selfish as they are, both are reluctant to admit anything. Maybe afraid of compromising the game, maybe because they want to shield themselves from possible hurt and misery.

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Ten years have passed. Julien is married and has two children. Sophie has also married; she married her old boyfriend, now a famous soccer star. Julien drowns in a life of sorrow. He admits that he has not forgotten about Sophie, but that she must have forgotten about him. How could he not be reminded of Sophie when her husband’s face is plastered on billboards everywhere. On the night of Julien’s tenth wedding anniversary, Julien receives a message from Sophie, with the tin box in a box. This indicates that the game is back on. Julien and Sophie meet for a brief moment in the middle of another dare. For a minute long, Julien enjoys what is a lifetime of happiness to him. This is, as well as the scene that follows, is a beautiful part of the film. In a fast-paced sequence, Julien narrates about the game and life and how a life with Sophie is better than anything in the world. And that that’s what it all really comes down to. Up to this point we’ve seen the two go from playful dares to sinister challenges and ultimately destructive acts. But if the movie even had a heart, this scene, the only scene in my opinion showing a real human emotion, would be it.

Following a crash and a revelation, the two stand opposite each other. They accept their love for each other and prepare to have their love immortalized, which is the ultimate dare. We then jump to the final scene, in which we see Julien and Sophie in an elderly home, misbehaving still. There is much debate about what the last scene means. Does it represent the present and was the previous scene merely a symbolic act? Or is it the other way around and is this scene meant to portray the two of them and their love for each other (and the game) in its eternal state? And is it a reference to Antoine de Exupery’s “Le Petit Prince” (The Little Prince)?

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The aftermath

In the end, Jeux d’Enfants is a fairy tale of our time with a great dose of surrealism and, as odd as this sounds, realism as well. The film is a dreamy and colorful and the chemistry between Canet and Cotillard is near perfect. There is a slight Jeunet influence in the beginning of the film, but this is soon diminished as Samuell takes his own direction from the second half of the film, focusing more on the two protagonists and the story. And the story is one about finding true everlasting love, with an occasional dare and game in between. It is a romantic movie but it never takes itself seriously, which makes the film light-hearted. And don’t expect to find sweet and lush love either. This is about finding someone you deem your adversary, a worthy adversary to run a life of adventures with.

But the downfall of the film is that the story only works superficially. It doesn’t say anything about life and the ‘heart’ of the film is never realized. The only moment that worked was the wild monologue of Julien in which he rants about life. But other than that, the film doesn’t carry the ’emotion’ that it would need for it to be a heartfelt romantic film. And while Canet and Cotillard play two engaging characters, you never fully connect with the two due to their destructing personalities. But is it a movie you have to watch? I’ll say that it is a movie that you won’t soon forget and the screenplay contributed to that mostly. But the film delivers what it promises and it does so beautifully. And would I watch the movie again? Most definitely.