Les Enfants Terribles (1950): Melville’s Second Film, Written by Jean Cocteau

Jean-Pierre Melville’s debut, Le Silence de la Mer (1949), attracted the attention of  the poet Jean Cocteau, who commissioned him to direct the film version of his famous play Les Enfants Terribles.

Cocteau himself provides the voice-over narration.

Élisabeth looks after her bedridden mother and is protective of her teenage brother Paul, who has been injured in a snowball fight at school and has to rest in bed.

The siblings are inseparable, sleeping in the same room, fighting, playing secret games, and rarely leaving the house.

Paul’s friend, Gérard, often drops by to stay with them. When the mother dies, Élisabeth becomes a model for a couturier, where she meets Agathe and brings her home to live with them. The shy girl bears a strong resemblance to Dargelos, a schoolboy whom Paul had a crush on and the same boy who injured him.

Paul and Agathe are immediately attracted to each other but neither can declare it, fearing Élisabeth’s reaction. Élisabeth and Paul’s relationship is a game, in which during arguments the winner is the one with the last word.

Élisabeth has met a rich businessman who she marries, but he dies days after in a road accident, leaving her his mansion and fortune.

She brings Paul, Agathe and Gérard to live with her. Paul decides he must tell Agathe he loves her and posts a letter, which Élisabeth destroys when it arrives.

Élisabeth then pushes Gérard and Agathe into marrying each other, so they move out and she has Paul to herself. Gérard visits them with a present from Dargelos of an exotic poison, a subject that had fascinated the two at school.

Having lost Agathe and now a virtual prisoner of Élisabeth, Paul in despair takes the poison. When Agathe visits him on his deathbed, they discover how Élisabeth has destroyed their love. Élisabeth realizes that Paul’s death would end the game with him winning.

To ruin their reconciliation and to avoid being on her own, Élisabeth shoots herself and dies seconds before Paul.

Jean Cocteau (Voice-over) : the narrator
Nicole Stéphane : Élisabeth
Édouard Dermit : Paul
Jacques Bernard : Gérard
Renée Cosima : Agathe/Dargelos
Adeline Aucoc : Mariette, the maid
Maurice Revel : the physician
Maria Cyliakus : the mother
Roger Gaillard : Gérard’s uncle
Melvyn Martin : Michaël, Élisabeth’s brief husband
Jean-Marie Robain : the school principal
Annabel Buffet: the model
Émile Mathys: the school vice-principal