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France, 1952 (MIFF 1955, Programme 5)

Director: Rene Clement

Adapted from a novel which Francois Boyer wrote originally as a film scenario, this film won the Grand Prix at the Venice Festival in 1952.

Remarkably original in conception, it is impossible to classify in style or to consider as representative of any school or type. Rather it is a unique study of the frightening private world of children, of innocence, of secret rituals - remote from the adult world, of war and terror.

It is 1940. German planes are strafing refugees along the roads outside Paris. Five-year-old Paulette sees her parents killed, and with her dead puppy in her arms wanders off by herself into the countryside.

She is found by Michel, youngest member of a local peasant family who shelter her. During her first night under their roof she hears one of them describe how the dead refugees had to be buried like "dogs''. So begins a forbidden and secret game played by Paulette and Michel. They bury the puppy and later other animals and build a cemetery in a deserted mill.

Fascinated by the crosses in the village graveyard they steal a wheelbarrow load precipitating a bitter quarrel among the local peasant families. The film builds up to a poignant climax when the children's innocent dream world is shattered by the conflicts of life itself.

The outstanding quality of the screen images lift the film into the highest category of screen artistry aided by wonderful performances from the cast, especially the children. The brilliant screen play, the music, the unusual wit in scenes which touch on religion and in the churchyard fight all form part of a most remarkable essay in filmmaking.

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