As an eight-year old, Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe) can't accept his mother's (Emmanuelle Gronvold) mortality as cancer steals her life away. It devastates him and his reality when she finally passes and he loses the parent he was closest to and needed most. He focuses his energy away from his heartbreak and, when young Sophie (Josephine Lebas Joly) becomes his playmate, her mischievous imagination leads them both into a world of amusement. That world includes destructive pranks and dirty words in class, each the response to a game of "Dare."
Visually symbolizing the state of the game, a colorful tin box that Julien's mother gave him as a parting gift passes from one to the other as they take on the dare. The possessor of it is obliged to increase the level of the prank, making it more unexpected, riskier, ever more irreverent and scandalous.
By college age, Julienne (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) are involved with other people but continue the game. By now, the level of invention and psychic damage is a barrier to any other form of communication between them, becoming more impregnable with each "Gotcha!" The emotional tie they feel for each other, which we sense is the strongest one in their lives, is never verbally expressed. Julienne nearly chokes on his tongue when he tries. They have become emotional cripples in a state of monk-like denial.
The portrayal of this process is rich in detail and talent even as its focus on unfulfillment becomes exhausting and hopeless. In his showcase of cleverness, writer-director Yann Samuell (co-written with Jacky Cukier) finds every shaded note that will support his premise but, in a pattern of disappointment, the heart of the story loses its beat. Audience estrangement follows. Every failure of the couple to connect emotionally draws us into a bloodless landscape. What started out as warm, compelling drama contrives its way to something cold and uncompromising.
It may be a finely made exercise in the futility of game playing that merits a nod for fascination, and praise should be heaped on both sets of actors involved, children and adult, but daring is not a replacement for caring. In the end, our lovers' flaw is the quicksand of misplaced priorities they've stepped into, miring them in emotional limbo. Samuell's flaw was in making it a gloomy and calculating exercise in despair rather than a credible experience. Shakespeare had it right and did it better.
Aka Jeux d'enfants.
Love me if you double dog dare!
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th May 2004
Box Office USA: $0.4M
Distributed by: Paramount Classics
Production compaines: Nord Ouest Production, StudioCanal
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 44%
Fresh: 35 Rotten: 44
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Yann Samuell
Starring: Guillaume Canet as Julien, Marion Cotillard as Sophie, Thibault Verhaeghe as Julien à 8 ans, Joséphine Lebas-Joly as Sophie à 8 ans, Emmanuelle Grönvold as Mère de Julien, Frédéric Geerts as Igor, Isabelle Delval as Clothilde, Jean-Michel Flagothier as Dorzac, Gilles Lellouche as Sergei Nimov Nimovitch, Élodie Navarre as Aurélie
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