What I Watched: Jeux d’Enfants (Love Me If You Dare)
Jeux d’Enfants: A Romantic Comedy for the Tortured Soul
After watching Elle months ago, my desire for mindless kissy-kissy-goo-goo-fluff-films is still going on strong. Since Valentine’s Day is nearing, I thought it’d be the perfect time to binge on some romantic comedy. I’ve always been a sucker for a good romance, and even more so for those romances built on the premise of dark, gut-wrenching struggle and tragedy. What can I say? Adversity of the heart fills a cynic like me with those electric, amorous tingles. That’s why the movie, Jeux d’Enfants (Love Me If You Dare) is right in my wheelhouse.
Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) have a unique relationship that is solely built on decades of outrageously odd dares. The pair met as small children when Julien, a boy from an affluent family, noticed a group of his classmates bullying Sophie, an impoverished daughter of Polish immigrants, outside of their school bus. In an effort to cheer her, Julien offers Sophie a small tin carousel box given to him by his dying mother. Although Julien knows his offering is the moral thing to do, part of him is reluctant to completely give the box to Sophie, as it holds enormous sentimental value. He then asks Sophie to lend the box back to him on occasion. Appalled, Sophie demands that Julien prove his love for the box to her. He smirks and responds by releasing their bus’ hand break while the driver had stepped-off. Sophie and Julien smile as the bus rolls down the hill, still filled with their bully peers. They become kindred spirits in that instant, and so begins their bizarre, and often tumultuous, relationship.
Cap Ou Pas Cap?
Julien and Sophie’s entire relationship revolves around extreme dares. The rules are straightforward. Whoever is in possession of the aforementioned carousel box proposes the dare. Once the other person completes the dare, s/he gets the box, and in turn, proposes another dare, always slightly more outrageous than the dare before. Without fail, they’ll ask, “Cap, ou pas cap?”. The other always responds, “Cap!” As a side note, cap is the shortened slang from the French word capable, which as you might guess, means capable. In English, we might say, “Are you game, or not?” At any rate, as a means to escape the adversity the children both face in their own lives, Sophie and Julien are always cap. The dares become an obsession- the core mechanism of their livelihoods.
This harmless childish game starts with silly pranks on teachers and family- vulgar outbursts in class, public urination, a smashed croquembouche on the floor, etc. Yet, when Julien and Sophie grow into young adults, the dares become a cruel device in emotionally sabotaging the other. We first see this when Julien dares Sophie to wear her underwear outside of her clothes for a major math exam. He alters her name in the teacher’s records, which further frazzles the lingerie-clad Sophie during her test, but then Julien prods Sophie further by flirting with a classmate outside in plain view. Sophie becomes wrought with jealousy, storms out of the exam, and dares Julien to have sex with the unsuspecting ‘bimbo’. This is where the dares begin to transition from infantile shenanigans to malicious attempts to emotionally incapacitate the other. They clearly love one another, but the addiction, familiarity, and adrenaline surrounding their perverse game obscures all bubblegum romantic sentiment. They resist the obvious destiny of finding eternal love with one another.
Cotillard and Canet’s Chemistry… GAME ON!
Allow me to take a moment to appreciate Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet’s onscreen chemistry. The love between these two is authentic and palpable in Jeux d’Enfants. Aside from Canet’s boyish charm and luscious head of hair, and Cotillard’s … well… everything (because, let’s be real, Marion Cotillard is a flawless creature of the purest perfection), it’s no wonder that the two actually married in 2007- four years after Jeux d’Enfants. They’ve been married since, children and all. Regardless, every time Julien looks at Sophie, a piece of my heart swells. That’s important. By the end of the movie, we shouldn’t like the protagonists. Sophie and Julien are really horrible to each other, as well as the other innocent people involuntarily spun into their sadistic game. Yet, knowing their personal struggles, and their burning love for one another, I can’t help but cheer for these two to come together and finally have their la vie en rose. That’s what brilliantly sets this film apart from other formulaic romances.
Love. Destiny. It’s complicated.
Definitely. Not. Fluff.
There’s a lot happening in Jeux d’Enfants that I couldn’t thoughtfully address it all in one post. However, I will say that this seemingly happy film about innocent childhood romance is actually dark and riddled with complexities. On the surface, we are first led to believe this will be an adorable love story, as it’s filled with colorful and imaginative imagery. The cinematography is dazzling. The soundtrack is calculated, eerily beautiful, and intelligent. The ending is shocking, as it slightly delves into a sliding doors kind of scenario. Some of the reviews I’ve perused have criticized the somewhat grim conclusion, but I enjoyed it.
Jeux d’Enfants is an atypical love story that will leave you thinking, so if you like a romance with substance then this one’s a perfect fit! Cap, ou pas cap?
À la prochaine!