Friday, June 22, 2007

Books: Les Enfants Terribles (The Holy Terrors) by Jean Cocteau

From the start, this slim and affected volume reminded me of the affected, slim volumes of Anaïs Nin, which I once appreciated, but perhaps have grown out of. It reminded me too of The Dreamers, Bertolucci's beautiful 2003 film, featuring the effulgent Eva Green. Of course, written in 1929, it precedes both.

Elizabeth and Paul are wealthy orphans (as the book opens, their mother still lives, but she is an emotional invalid who spends her days in bed and must be cared for by her daughter; soon enough, she dies). Paul soon becomes an invalid himself (a victim of 19th Century "vapors," "weak constitution," etc. when a snowball hits him in the chest, sending him to bed for the rest of his life). With little else to concern them than their (perhaps valid) emotional damage, they build a fantasy world in their shared bedroom, filled to overflowing with clippings and trinkets and cushions, occasionally including a new-found friend in their sphere (with whom Elizabeth will toy and, eventually, destroy, in order to protect her relationship with Paul, upon whom she depends completely).

It is difficult to empathize with, indeed, such terrible infants, and Coteau's affected language (referred to as "poetic" by the translator) doesn't make it any easier; it's as immature and frivolous as his characters. I don't doubt that people have behaved like this, but I'd rather not accede to their sucking maws by paying attention to it. Somehow, The Dreamers managed to avoid this repulsion; perhaps via Eva Green's good looks, perhaps by the use of an American as foil to the French twins, perhaps because the movie takes place over a summer rather than five or ten years, their dreaming can be forgiven, because they will wake up. For the terrible infants, only death awaits, and Cocteau kills them all off at the end, as, in 1929, the writer of an affected, slim volume must.

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