NEW YORK — The movie version of "Les Enfants Terribles," made in 1949 and also known as "The Strange Ones," was directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the most original French filmmakers of the postwar era. Jean Cocteau himself wrote the screenplay, almost as graceful as his original novel, and narrates the story in his inimitable voice, as dry as dust and yet as evocative as any poet.
Edouard Dermithe and Nicole Stephane have a physical resemblance to each other that makes them ideal for the roles of Paul and Elisabeth, the brother and sister who live in a sexually confused, private dream world that's ultimately shaken apart by Paul's romantic attachments. The camera work, at once crisply efficient and richly expressive, is by the great Henri Decae.
In light of Philip Glass's new adaptation, it's interesting to note that Melville's movie enhances its powerful emotions with a music score taken from the Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi. It includes a four-piano adaptation of one Vivaldi piece that was composed by J.S. Bach and has a repetitive, almost minimalist sound that Glass himself must recognize as a close counterpart to his own pulsing style. Glass's decision to use multiple pianos as the sole instruments of his version must also have been suggested by the Bach-Vivaldi piece.
Melville's film of "Les Enfants Terribles" is available on home-video cassette from Water Bearer Films.