Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard in Jeux d'enfants (2003)

LOVE ME IF YOU DARE (Jeux d’enfants)

(director/writer: Yann Samuell; cinematographer: Antoine Roch; editor: Andrea Sedlackova; music: Philippe Rombi; cast: Guillaume Canet (Julien), Marion Cotillard (Sophie Kowalski), Thibault Verhaeghe (Julien, age 8), Joséphine Lebas-Joly (Sophie, age 8), Emmanuelle Gronvold (Julien’s Mother), Gerard Watkins (Julien’s Father), Gilles Lellouche (Sergei); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Christophe Rossignon; Paramount Classics; 2003-France-in French with English subtitles)
“The story was so artificially sour that it seemed ludicrous, unimportant and unbelievable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Yann Samuell’s fantasy romantic/comedy allegory, which he directs and co-writes, belongs to the same superficial whimsical camp as ”Amélie.” It was filmed in the Baroque Belgium cities of Brussels and Liege, and it includes animations and an assortment of splashy rococo colorings for its set pieces. Though somewhat bleak despite being as a light as a feather, the plot line hopes to thrive on its one-joke framing device to set a hopelessly sweetened romantic mood. The film literally means Child’s Play, and sets its four chapter story (game, set, match, and end of the game) around the ‘game of dare’ two children developed from a consequential childhood meeting. By the finale the cutesy tale of relentless childhood puppy love games takes a devilishly serious turn and tritely comes to the conclusion that life isn’t a game. I guess that’s supposed to be a startling revelation for this conventional film trying desperately to get over as something deeper than a pretty to look at cartoon. It’s too bad that the stars were so repulsive that I found it very difficult to care what happened to them and the story was so artificially sour that it seemed ludicrous, unimportant and unbelievable.

The film opens to mama’s boy Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe, age 8) hugging his mother (Gronvold), who is bed-ridden. She’s dying of cancer and the eight-year-old Julien is soon running to catch his school bus only to find classmate Sophie (Joséphine Lebas-Joly, age 8) sobbing after being attacked by her classmates and mocked as a Polack. Julien feels sorry for her and gives her a pretty tin box with a merry-go-round on it. When he asks her if he could borrow it sometimes, she says if he wants it back he has to perform a dare. The bratty Sophie while cared for by the concerned bus driver, dares the bratty Julien to release the brakes of the bus. When Julien carries out the dare, the runaway bus with all the bully school children aboard becomes filmed in animation as it goes out-of-control heading for a building. From that cutesy beginning the story follows their close childhood friendship built around playing their shadowy game as they dare each other — back and forth — to do things which causes them to get into big trouble in school. It also incurs the wrath of Julien’s befuddled father (Watkins) and will eventually lead to him abandoning the adult Julien.

Dares that begin with saying vulgarities to teachers and urinating on floors escalate from naughty pranks to dares of sexual conquest, public disgraces, and haphazard acts of mindless violence. When Julien’s mother dies, the boy remains close only to Sophie in a brother-sister relationship. As the decades pass, the two young adults (Julien- Guillaume Canet & Sophie-Marion Cotillard) continue to play this obnoxious game. Though they repress the attraction they have for each other, there’s a point when they can’t hide it any longer. That recognition only results in their life getting messier. The longer the film goes on using these troubling games to darken the story, the more the film loses any sensible way of being resolved. Yann Samuell’s feature debut leaves its self-absorbed main characters struggling to find meaning in their life while trying to hold onto at least some charm. Since the characters were able to do neither, the film implodes like a Road Runner cartoon. The cartoon characters run into one too many brick walls for it to be thought of any more as funny or dramatic, as much as it was just silly, mean-spirited and childish.