by Madhumati Chowdhury
Picture this, you spend your whole life playing this elaborate game of chance and challenges with another person, from the time you were kids to the time when you’re now teenagers inching towards adulthood. It gets to a point where everything one asks of the other can be fulfilled with a simple phrase - “Cap ou Pas Cap?” (Are you game/capable?). There is the possibility of love and realizations, and rejection too but you always know that those three magical words could erase that trajectory or all of these simultaneously.
“Love me” you say.
“Game” says the other.
Do you play? Is the game love or the love game?
When you haven’t known anything but games all your life, does reality manage to smack you straight in the face, forcing you to wake up or only to devise a new way to integrate the reality into your games?
Jeux d'enfants (Love Me if You Dare) is a fascinating Franco-Belgian movie by director Yann Samuell released in 2003. It stars Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet and a gorgeous and generous use of the song La vie en Rose, in covers and the original, intricately woven into the structure of the film raising it a notch above the rest.
The story is essentially of two kids, Sophie and Julien, and it follows their lives from the moment they become friends in school through the motions of growing up recording the various mishaps more than most times a result of their own inventions and how these mishaps escalate to a point where they are potentially life changing or destructive, all for the sake of a game of dares. This film is a rollercoaster ride from the onset, where you see the two of them take part in their first dare, endangering the lives of a bus of school children who were picking on Sophie for being Polish. It sets the tone for the whole film, Julien and Sophie against the world. Two children from backgrounds as starkly different as their origins meet and there is a spark almost instantaneously, irresistible and eyeball grabbing. While the dares keep escalating as the years pass, unbeknownst to him, makes life for Julien difficult. His father acquires a deep resentment towards Sophie for taking away his son as he sits at the helm of loss, watching as his wife succumbs to cancer and leaves him to raise a young child alone and awkwardly, Julien’s father is a tragic character caught in the game as collateral damage.
Life outside of Julien and Sophie seem to dissolve as soon as they are together and turns into a playground of dares, everyone a pawn in their chessboard of fantasies and blurring the lines between truth and dare really where the truth itself ends up becoming a dare. A pretty box, Julien’s mother’s which she gifts to him, with a merry-go-round painted onto it becomes the crux of these dares. Whoever owns it has to earn it from the other through the challenge proposed by the one who owns it. It is a twisted world that these two construct out of pain loss and friendship, a way to deal with life by challenging life itself to a duel.
It does get the best of them at times, when the lines drawn dissolve and facts regain foothold and they themselves are bested by their own game. Naturally there comes with this a lot of heartbreak and a potential to cause much more than just bodily harm to the point where one is left asking if all this is worth it. No one can say for sure, not even Julien or Sophie, and even if they do say yes, there is ample reason to doubt them under the conditions we see them weathering under.
Then again the story isn’t quite this simple. There is a point in the movie when Julien imagines himself and Sophie being cast out of the Garden of Eden, their school principal being God demanding discipline and the serpent, who is a puppet, egging on the Adam and Eve figures, to learn words. Eve looks highly disinterested in the proceedings and decides to hand over the apple as a substitute to the pretty box that they exchange for challenges to Adam, asking “Cap ou Pas Cap” who excitedly takes it, a break from the lessons , accepting the challenge to bite into the apple. It shows them not paying heed to rules, where knowledge comes from challenging established order and all of this realized without the serpent ever pushing them towards it, in fact it shouts at them that they will be failed in their school work but Sophie and Julien have decided to rebel and rebel they do.
This movie is for the story, is for the music, for the times we have loosely more than once commented that love is a game and these two live the lament with much gusto. Their sense of belonging to each other a constant challenge pushing each other to their limits to see how far they would go to be with each other until they can go no further and decide to end the games with a last cry of “Cap” echoing through as they decide happily that their love is impossible and sturdy and unflinchingly brutal and eternal. This is one romance story that will keep you in your seat till the end until you go to sleep and wake up next day and the first thought that hits you will be this movie. Not to mention if you can stop yourself from humming La Vie en Rose after watching this, please let me know. I’d appreciate the help.
In terms of reviews and ratings they are mixed, with a 7.7 on Imdb and a 44% from rotten tomatoes. No one can decide really if they love or hate this film, but then I would rather you judge it yourself since these are just numbers. Who doesn’t want to see Marion in any film, being such an incredible actor? And Yann holds his own brilliantly well, too. Even the child actors Thibault Verhaeghe (Julien) and Joséphine Lebas-Joly (Sophie) are absolutely stunning and perfectly cast. This is one film you cannot dare miss no matter what you end up feeling.
So, are you game?
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This is one of my all favourite films, a heart attack of a movie. I rewatch every year and share with as many friends as possible. I will always treasure the absolutely appalled reaction of my visiting cousins.
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